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TNT Makes Shaquille O'Neal a Big Part of Campaign Promoting NBA's Return

Network Aims to Draw Casual Fans With Shaq's Fame and Christmas Day Opener

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TNT is launching a major marketing campaign ahead of the NBA's Christmas Day tip-off for its lockout-shortened season, leveraging its newest piece of big-name broadcasting talent as the network tries to draw more casual fans and make up ratings points that were lost to cancelled games.

Three new TV spots, which start airing Friday, feature retired basketball star and marketing giant Shaquille O' Neal, the latest to join the Turner network's NBA broadcast. The campaign started last weekend with a spot on CBS's NFL broadcast but adds heavier national advertising on TNT and elsewhere this weekend. The ads promise that "big things are coming" -- a nod to Shaq's seven-foot-one, 300-plus -pounds size.

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The campaign places a heavier emphasis on digital and social media than in previous years, fueled in no small part by Shaq's 4.6 million Twitter followers. It also includes print ads in The New York Times starting Dec. 23 (TNT's first game pits the New York Knicks against the Boston Celtics) and TNT is in talks with national retailers about in-store holiday promotions. Unlike previous promotional campaigns that focused more on the actual team match-ups, this year's puts the spotlight on Shaq and his larger-than-life persona. That, combined with the Christmas Day opening that resulted from the lockout, has the network hoping to draw more casual fans into the mix.

"The difference with a Christmas tip-off is a chance to bring in more casual fans, so we've built our campaign around that ," said Christina Miller, senior VP of Turner Sports for strategy, marketing and programming.

The first spot, airing Friday, features Shaq entering the TNT studio to a hyped-up, pre-game player-style introduction -- to the chagrin of on-air colleagues such as Charles Barkley. Later spots show Shaq lamenting that he's no longer playing, until Barkley shows him he still can't make a free throw -- just like he's still in the game -- and Shaq running over two of his colleagues' cars with a monster truck that needs two parking spots.

ESPN, for its part, started promoting its Christmas Day games Tuesday night with a spot highlighting some of last season's key storylines. It's shooting more spots this week that will include both ESPN talent and current and former NBA players. ESPN will produce a second Christmas Day game to air on ABC, its sibling within the Walt Disney Co.

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