Sport-channel push: NBA recruits players to star in $10M effort for League Pass

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The facial expressions, the animated gestures, the ploys to get referee's calls to go their way-players in the National Basketball Association are actors on the court. So when the league wanted to put together its latest ad campaign to promote League Pass, its digital cable service, it turned to its biggest asset: the athletes.

Former NBA star-turned-TV analyst Bill Walton and 12 current players have filmed four commercials that serve as the cornerstone of a $10 million integrated campaign.

"It was really a no-brainer for us to continue to place an emphasis on League Pass, based on our subscriber base and what's happening in digital cable," said Merritt Paulson, the NBA's director-business development and marketing.

The first of the spots will debut Oct. 16 during the Los Angeles Lakers-Cleveland Cavaliers game on TNT, and then will air on NBA TV, ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Classic and local affiliate broadcasts of live NBA games.

Radio spots and print ads-which will appear in publications such as Sports Illustrated, ESPN the Magazine, USA Today, Sporting News and NBA team publications and major consumer dailies-are scheduled for early October.

It is the first time the NBA has used its players in a campaign for League Pass, its out-of-market live game coverage that is similar to the National Football League's Sunday Ticket, which allows fans to purchase a season-long TV package that gives them access to every game. First launched in 1994 on satellite service, the NBA's League Pass is available on DirecTV, EchoStar's Dish network and all digital cable systems affiliated with InDemand.

Without addressing the current legal woes of Kobe Bryant, the NBA's marquee superstar, Mr. Walton said: "The NBA was very, very sharp in terms of identifying the right guys who can stand up there and represent the league in a positive manner."

the lineup

Post-production on the spots continues, following filming over a two-day period last month at NBA Entertainment headquarters in Secaucus, N.J. The ads were produced in-house. Players who appear in the spots include New Orleans Hornets stars Jamal Mashburn and Baron Davis, Malik Rose of NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, Richard Jefferson of the New Jersey Nets, Richard Hamilton of the Detroit Pistons and Mr. Walton's son, Luke Walton, who will be a rookie this season with the Los Angeles Lakers.

"If there's anything we've become efficient at, it's working with professional athletes who are not used to sitting in a trailer waiting for a knock," said Scott Weinstock, VP-senior creative director, NBA Entertainment.

The premise of the campaign features Mr. Walton as the CEO of NBA League Pass, and the players as workers for the company who are charged with selling packages to prospective customers. In the debut spot, Mr. Walton, wearing a suit, addresses the athletes dressed in their respective uniforms sitting around a conference table. While most of the players offer their undivided attention, Mr. Jefferson becomes distracted by a plate of cookies in front of him, prompting a tongue lashing from Mr. Walton: "Richard! Cookies are for closers only!"

In another, Mr. Walton's son is a mailroom worker who is shown sweet-talking a secretary by saying, "You know my dad owns the company, right?"

Mr. Weinstock said this was the only idea he pitched to his bosses.

"I'm in a corporate environment here, and I thought, `Why wouldn't that translate to something like the League Pass offices?'" he said. "There's a lot of humor there, and the spot with Bill's kid really lent itself to the joke."

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