The Nba: Not The Only Game In Town

Can the league be replaced? No, but...

The arenas where the NBA plays are dark and will stay that way for some time. Even if quarreling owners and players strike a bargain, there would be no season until the middle of January. The lockout is a bummer for the National Basketball Assn., all right. But are the league's troubles opening up opportunities for other sports enterprises? It depends.

The National Hockey League says its demographics more closely resemble those of the National Football League than the NBA. In other words, hockey's fan base isn't going to grow because Charles Barkley is walking a picket line. "There's potential for more exposure to hockey--we welcome that. But to say we have an opportunity to capture all these NBA fans isn't valid," says NHL spokesperson Bernadette Mansur.

Other leagues, though, do smell profit. Take the brash American Basketball League. The women's league is wooing refugees from the NBA with dead-aim advertising. One ad reads: "Looking for pro hoops? We're playing!" Says ABL co-founder Gary Cavalli: "It's a real opportunity for us in terms of both exposure and a way to build our fan base. No question the lockout has enabled us to get more media coverage without endless NBA highlights of people dunking ad nauseam." Another ABL advertisement features a drawing of a huge screw. "NBA Lockout!" the copy reads. "The only ones who get [arrow pointing to the screw] are the fans." Cavalli acknowledges that "only one or two of our teams wanted to use the screw ad. The rest thought it was"

COLLEGE TRY. Whether disenchanted NBA fans will connect with the ABL remains to be seen. Three weeks into the league's third season, attendance hasn't moved from last year's average of 4,300 fans a game. And in Portland, Ore., and Denver, two cities where the women's league competes head-to-head with the NBA, crowds in November were even smaller.

College basketball has also had its eyes on the NBA crowd. At Southern Methodist University in Dallas, however, school officials are avoiding mention of the lockout in advertising campaigns. In the past, the Mustangs' men's basketball team has had cross-promotional deals with the NBA Dallas Mavericks that, says SMU spokesman John Jackson, "in no way do we want to jeopardize."

DePaul University in Chicago has been less reserved. The Blue Demons, who are usually lost in the shadow of the NBA champion Bulls, recently ran a newspaper advertisement that took a playful jab at Michael Jordan & Co. "Don't get locked out. Buy your season tickets now," the advertisement said. It ran only twice. "We got a call from the Bulls on that one saying, `We wish you wouldn't do that,"' says DePaul Athletic Director Bill Bradshaw. "I was flattered. It was the first time that they had noticed us in 10 years." Fans are noticing DePaul, too: Sales of season tickets have increased by approximately 40%.

Professional wrestling also seems to be benefiting from the NBA lockout. A World Wrestling Federation event in Houston recently drew a healthy crowd, including at least one spectator who would normally be at work--Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal.