While we have been glued to the Westminster Kennel Club dog show (go Hickory!) and the man vs. machine matchup on Jeopardy (go humans!), they are admittedly not the biggest games in town this week. That would be the NBA's oh-so-sexy All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles and the return of Nascar at the recently repaved Daytona 500.
Hollywood has laser facial resurfacing. Daytona has asphalt.
NBA All-Star Weekend: The Money Scoop
With the Super Bowl in the books, the sports world turns its collective attention to the next major event: the NBA All-Star Weekend. This year's All-Star Weekend takes on extra importance for the NBA. Like its NFL counterpart, the NBA's collective bargaining agreement expires in the coming months. Accordingly, the league, headed by 27-year veteran Commissioner David Stern, and the Players Assn. plan to hold labor talks throughout the weekend, with such stars as LeBron James and Derek Fisher in attendance.
According to the most recent industry valuations, the average value of an NBA franchise is $369 million, up about 1 percent from 2010. Average operating income fell to $6.1 million, down 22 percent from last year and "the lowest figure since the 2002-03 season," according to league sources. Of the NBA's 30 teams, 17 are reported to have lost money.
Still, NBA and NBPA representatives are hoping that meetings around All-Star Weekend will begin to help the league get back on track before its CBA expires on June 30. The two sides last met formally one year ago at the 2010 All-Star break in Dallas, and as NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver admits, "we haven't made any progress since." Counters NBPA Executive Director Billy Hunter: "I'm confident that, absent some major change in their position, there will be a lockout. I haven't seen anything yet that indicates to me they're willing to make the kind of change in position that the union deems necessary in order for us to get a deal."
The 60th NBA All-Star Game, which will be held on Sunday, Feb. 20, at downtown L.A.'s Staples Center, will reach fans in more than 200 countries and territories who speak more than 40 languages. For the ninth consecutive year, the All-Star Game will be televised on TNT, marking Turner Sports' 27th year of All-Star coverage.
NBA All-Star Saturday Night, presented by State Farm, will feature the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest, Haier Shooting Stars, Sprite Slam Dunk, and the Taco Bell Skills Challenge. Other events at NBA All-Star 2011 will include the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam and the BBVA NBA All-Star Celebrity Game. At the nearby Los Angeles Convention Center, the kid-friendly NBA All-Star Jam Session presented by Adidas (ADS), featuring the likes of Hornets star Chris Paul and Laker legend "Big Game James" Worthy will entertain Angeleno families Friday through Monday.
This will be the fifth NBA All-Star match held in L.A., which previously hosted the event in 2004, 1983, 1972, and 1963. With the added attraction of the AEG's L.A. Live entertainment complex (where actor Jamie Foxx will host a Thursday night concert at the 2,300-seat Club Nokia) and the 54-story J.W. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotel tower built next to Staples Center over the past three years, the L.A. Sports and Entertainment Commission estimates that All-Star Weekend festivities will generate more than $85 million in spending—a 7 percent increase over the (prerecession) 2004 event.
AEG, of course, is hoping that the next NBA All-Star Weekend in L.A. will be centered around their proposed $1 billion Farmers Field downtown stadium complex. But that's a Slam Dunk contest for another day.
NBA All-Star Weekend: Activation by Sponsors, Nonprofits, and Stars
Even when it's not being held in L.A., the NBA All-Star Game is usually the most glitzy of all such pro sports events, primarily because the tattoo-emblazoned bare body, conspicuous floor-seat NBA environment leaves little to the high-profile imagination. Accordingly, NBA sponsors and related organizations, especially those active around All-Star Weekend, tend to be a little edgier in their events and campaigns. It's not every day that one of the hottest parties piggybacking on an All-Star event is held at the Playboy Mansion.
After a five-year absence, American Express (AXP) is back as presenting sponsor of the "All-Star Entertainment Series," featuring performances such as the Foxx-hosted show. New NBA sponsor BBVA, a financial services company with a large and growing presence in Latin America, will serve as title sponsor for the celebrity game on Friday night, paying special attention to its global VIP clients in attendance. T-Mobile, home of those hilarious Charles Barkley and Dwyane Wade ads, this year is adding color via a "magenta carpet" event.
The NBA and Coca-Cola used the All-Star stage to announce a multiyear extension of their long-standing global marketing partnership, which will showcase Sprite through programs designed to connect with the league's young and global fan base. Sprite will continue to engage fans through special programs, including Sprite Slam Dunk at NBA All-Star and the Sprite Slam Dunk Showdown amateur slam dunk competition.
Likewise, sniffing out a great opportunity, the NBA and Right Guard announced an extension of their marketing partnership that will make the Official Deodorant of the NBA the presenting partner of Noche Latina (Latin Night) 2011. As the league's marquee program under the énebé•a platform, Noche Latina celebrates the league's Hispanic heritage. This year, Noche Latina celebrations get underway in L.A. with a Noche Latina party at All-Star presented by Right Guard on Thursday, including live performances by Dominican performer Vicente Garcia, music by Miami Heat's DJ Irie, and appearances by NBA players and Hispanic celebrities.
According to AdWeek, Turner Sports has "raked in an estimated $36.5 million in All-Star ad sales, a leap of 25 percent vs. last year's take." Like the Super Bowl, the automotive category has rebounded in a big way. TNT's All-Star Game telecast on Sunday will be presented by Kia Motors (KIMTY) for the second year, while Hyundai (HYMLF) will return as "presenting sponsor of the postgame show." In addition, Chrysler, Ford (F), and Acura have bought 30-second spots during the game.
For the first time the NBA has teamed up with Sensio Technologies to provide NBA All-Star Saturday Night, presented by State Farm, and the game itself in live 3D to more than 100 movie theaters worldwide. And in yet another "made for the movies" moment, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant on Saturday will become the first athlete to have a hand and footprint ceremony at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood.
Daytona 500 2011: Nascar at the Starting Line
Nascar's season officially gets under way this weekend, with the running of the Daytona 500. Besides the aforementioned $20 million track-repaving job at Daytona International Speedway, the entire 2011 Nascar season comes with changes, as Nascar altered its point structure to make it more fan-friendly. A race winner will receive 43 points under the new system, for example, and the points will decrease to 1 for the 43rd-place driver. What's more, the racing circuit is deliberately returning to its rough-and-tumble, moonshine-running roots, allowing drivers to be more aggressive to create drama and win back fans. To kick things off the right way, Daytona International Speedway has eased its restrictive cooler policies, allowing fans to bring in as many as 36 beers apiece, instead of just a six-pack.
Not to be left out of the celebrity-studded festivities, country singer Martina McBride, fresh off a Grammy Awards appearance, will sing the National Anthem before Sunday's Daytona 500, with actors Josh Duhamel and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and action adventure director Michael Bay serving as Grand Marshals for the big race.
According to motor sports industry sources, Nascar's TV viewership fell to 8.8 million for last year's Daytona 500 from a peak of 12.5 million in 2006. Attendance at races has also declined dramatically, as have sponsors attaching their logos to cars and tracks.
The new attitude among Nascar drivers and a bumper crop of free agents after the season may help turn things around. Driver Denny Hamlin, for example, has reportedly signed a deal with Nike's (NKE) Jordan Brand for the season. Nike's Jumpman logo will be seen on Hamlin's racing suit and gloves; Hamlin was quoted as saying that wearing the Jumpman logo "will help broaden the awareness of Nascar beyond its typical fan base when his name is mentioned" with such other Jordan Brand endorsers as Derek Jeter and Dwyane Wade.
The 2011 season also features one of the largest and most star-studded free agent classes in years, with such drivers as Carl Edwards, Danica Patrick, Juan Pablo Montoya, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Mark Martin, and others looking to sign new contracts for 2012. Teams that have the financial ability to expand and take them on include Joe Gibbs Racing, Penske Racing, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, and Stewart-Haas Racing.
In what might be its biggest effort to expand its fan base, Nascar has finally signed a nonexclusive licensing agreement with Walmart (WMT) that will enable it to make apparel, home goods, and the like bearing Nascar, driver, and team logos. The three-year deal is Walmart's first licensing agreement with a major sports property. Over the next two weeks, the world's biggest retailer will support the new licensing deal with a special "Race Time" promotion in more than 1,500 stores nationwide, including such Nascar sponsors as Miller-Coors, Coca-Cola (KO), and Mars in a specially branded area of the store.
It's official: a Walmart aisle is where the rubber hits the asphalt.