TORONTO SHOOTS FOR NEW NBA STRATEGY

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TORONTO-The brand-new National Basketball Association team here is implementing the first-phase of a promised $7.4 million advertising and marketing campaign to convince Canadians an indoor winter sport doesn't have to involve guys named Jacques and Pierre beating each other to a hockey puck.

The Professional Basketball Franchise of Canada, the consortium that won the expansion team last October, will spend the marketing money to create an empire much larger than just ticket sales. PBF is also just starting to search out merchandising partners for a host of team-endorsed products from jackets and shirts to key chains and is gearing up for serious negotiations with Canadian network television owners in late May over broadcast rights to the Toronto team's games.

While PBF is hazarding no guesses about how much the rights could bring, in the U.S. it's big business. NBC-TV now pays the NBA $150 million annually for network TV rights to all games, for example.

"This is like a new product launch. It's a whole new form of entertainment. Our criteria for success is not just filling the stadium [but the laying the groundwork] for 10, 20 years down the road," said Himal Mathew, VP, Advance Planning & Communications, agency handling publicity of the new franchise.

So far, it appears the PBF hasn't spent much, instead relying on inexpensive contests with the cost borne by the media. The first step is a nationwide contest to name the team, to be followed by a corporate awareness ad campaign handled by Cossette Communication Marketing, said John Bitove Jr., PBF president and a catering firm executive.

Cossette hasn't started work on the effort and didn't know when the advertising would begin nor what the program would entail.

Advance is with Canadian media outlets, asking the media to hold their own name-the-team contests, amounting to free ad space and funding by each participating newspaper, magazine, television or radio station.

The top 10 names from each media outlet will be sent to PBF, which then will pick a name from those suggestions later this spring.

The for one, began its contest this month in conjunction with sponsors CFRB-AM Radio and The Hudson Bay department store. As an incentive, the Star will award a $500 gift certificate provided by The Bay to its top 10 name winners.

PBF is also offering six box seats to a game and a trip to see an out-of-town game to the winning station or publication to give to their viewers/readers for the first 1995-1996 season.

At presstime, 110 media outlets in Canada had signed on to participate in "The Name Game," said Mr. Bitove.

The team's marketing program will move along quickly, Mr. Mathew said, to make up for the three months lost while the province of Ontario and the NBA argued over the province's Pro-Line sports gambling game. Ontario collects about $4.5 million from the game that offers legalized wagering on NBA games.

Last month, the province agreed to remove the NBA from Pro-Line starting in October, 1995, in return for $7 million that Ontario can use to promote tourism and other community projects.

Laurie Freeman contributed to this story.

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