By Published on .

The National Basketball Association is planning a new image ad campaign to win back fans turned off by a months-long salary dispute between wealthy players and wealthier owners.

The ads, slated to break in late January just prior to the start of a shortened season, are expected to take a humbler approach than the league's recent in-your-face marketing campaigns.

"We have a few creative themes that have been presented," said Rick Welts, the league's chief marketing officer and president of NBA Properties. "We don't want to come on with a slick marketing campaign. Rightly so, fans would detect that and would feel we didn't get it."

"We have done a lot to alienate people," he added. "It's our position to accept responsibility, and invite people back to the game."

One longtime observer of the league said such factors as the quality of play early in the season, whether players take time to sign autographs and otherwise reconnect with fans and -- perhaps most important -- whether superstar Michael Jordan returns to the game will have far more impact than any formal marketing efforts.


Mr. Welts agreed, noting, "Probably the most important element is that the players now have a job to do" to win back fans.

NBA Entertainment, the TV and video production arm of the NBA, will produce new image spots. Berlin, Cameron & Partners, New York, is a creative consultant on the campaign.

NBA TV partners Turner Broadcasting and NBC will each contribute an undetermined amount of airtime to promote the league.


The ad campaign is just one element of a broader marketing effort to win back fans. NBA Commissioner David Stern has required that starting next year each team price 500 of its stadium seats at no more than $10 a ticket. Additionally, he said free seating will be available for the two exhibition games each team will play before the start of this season.

Also key to the league's return will be the level of support offered by the NBA's marketing partners and other advertisers on game broadcasts. Apparel and athletic footwear marketers such as Nike are the most dependent on the NBA, and most are seeking to salvage what they can from the shortened season. There are concerns marketers in other categories, many of which diverted funds to alternative media outlets and sporting events in recent months, will wait to see what happens with ratings and ad rates before returning to NBA telecasts.


Individual NBA teams are also doing their own fence-mending with fans locally. Several New Jersey Nets players, for example, will be included in a handful of planned radio spots with the tagline "Let's go." Kerwin Communications, West Caldwell, N.J., handles.

"You don't want to be too cutesy," said Leo Ehrline, exec VP-sales and marketing for the Nets. Team President Michael Rowe is also writing an open

Most Popular
In this article: