NBA CHAMPIONS A GLOBAL CONTEST

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Every year, the jubilant NBA team that wins the title inevitably carries its euphoric swagger too far and boasts of being "world champions."

But starting next year, those teams just might have to back up that bluster.

The league's board of governors voted April 28 to transform its every-other-year NBA pre-season exhibition in Europe, now known as the McDonald's Open, into a biennial world championship.

The revamped event will pit the NBA champ against the top pro teams from eight countries.

McDonald's Corp., already an NBA sponsor and involved with the league in many other countries, sponsors the current exhibition. It would retain title sponsorship, but the tournament will be open to other sponsors as well.

"This would make the McDonald's Open an even more important part of the global sports calendar and a more powerful marketing platform for companies to launch multination media tie-ins and promotions," said David Schreff, group VP-general manager for NBA Properties.

It's likely the event will be packaged into a massive global marketing and media deal now being negotiated by McDonald's and the NBA. Such a deal would be similar to Coca-Cola Co.'s partnership with the NBA, announced in February and valued at an estimated $285 million.

"The NBA and McDonald's have enjoyed a multinational relationship for seven years, and it is now evolving into a global relationship," Mr. Schreff said. He wouldn't say when the deal will be finalized; McDonald's wouldn't comment.

NBA Commissioner David Stern has often said the league won't field teams outside North America. He has cited financial and logistical impediments, and also the fact that basketball is already a thriving sport in many parts of the world, both on the amateur and professional levels.

Instead, the NBA's international activities have focused on growing the sport further through grass roots programs like the Converse 3-on-3 World Tour, and positioning the NBA as the world's elite pro basketball league through pre-season exhibitions and Dream Team Summer Olympic participation.

These tactics have not only been successful in moving $220 million in NBA consumer products last year, but in convincing the likes of Coca-Cola that the NBA is the world's most attractive sports marketing vehicle.

"When we looked at sports, we saw that basketball was the fastest growing sport in the world among our target audience-the youth market. So the NBA has an edge over other professional leagues. For us, it's more relevant," said Peter Capris, director of NBA worldwide marketing at Coca-Cola.

So far, Coca-Cola is the only NBA sponsor to have a global designation, but that doesn't preclude others from executing international marketing programs.

Bausch & Lomb Canada, McDonald's and Schick Japan are among companies that have conducted NBA promotions in foreign markets this year.

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