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San Diego International Airport has awarded its advertising concession contract to what would seem an unlikely outfit: the National Basketball Association's Portland Trailblazers.

The seven-year deal, estimated to generate more than $17 million for both the airport and the team, is the latest effort by the NBA franchise to leverage its interests in media into new-business opportunities. The force behind the initiative is billionaire Paul Allen, the team's owner.

"We are constantly looking to do more with the things that we have," said Harry Hutt, senior VP-marketing for the Trailblazers.


The team built a $4 million TV studio to handle its TV production. In its off hours, the facility doubles as a commercial production house. The Trailblazers also produce radio broadcasts of team games and publish a magazine for fans.

The team actually got into the airport signage business in 1993, when it was granted the rights at Portland International Airport. This past summer, it signed a deal with the Burbank, Calif., airport.

Mr. Hutt said the team has won accounts by selling an approach to ad signage it developed for the Allen-owned Rose Garden, where the Trailblazers play.

Instead of selling name rights to the Rose Garden, the Trailblazers created four media totems -- hollow ad-sponsored structures -- on each corner of the arena's concourse.

At the Portland airport, the Trailblazers created themes for signage on each of the airport's concourses. One local sports heroes; the other, local geography.

The shift from advertiser messages to sponsored motifs reversed moribund ad sales. Inventory is over 90% sold for 1997, putting the team in the black after an investment of $1 million to $2 million to install signs, according to Mr. Hutt.

Major advertisers in Portland have included U.S. Bank, AT&T Corp. and local advertisers.

For San Diego International, the team is developing themes appropriate to the city. For example, two themes in development center on the San Diego Zoo and Sea World.

Inventory is priced between $20,000 and $50,000, depending on the type of sign

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