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Gaming Guru

Chris Jones
 

NBA All-Star Game 2007: Slam Dunk

27 February 2006

At a media session before last Sunday's National Basketball Association All-Star Game in Houston, one of the sport's biggest stars was asked his opinion on next year's All-Star host.

True to form, Shaquille O'Neal responded with a slam-dunk answer.

"I just know that whatever happens in Vegas next year, stays in Vegas," the Miami Heat center quipped, giving interviewers a wry, knowing smile.

Las Vegas leaders were also smiling after they witnessed first-hand how much worldwide attention is showered upon the NBA's All-Star hosts.

The league last week welcomed 1,600 media members to Houston. Friday through Sunday, more than 30 semitrailer-size television trucks and vans lined curbs outside Toyota Center spreading coverage across the globe.

Newspapers, magazines and Web outlets also transmitted countless images and words with a Houston dateline.

Some claimed the Space City challenged Turin, Italy -- which simultaneously hosted the Winter Olympics -- as the world sporting capital, at least during an otherwise slow stretch of mid-February.

It's that widespread appeal that sets next February's All-Star events apart from other sporting competitions held in Southern Nevada, said Rossi Ralenkotter, president of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

And local leaders are already developing plans to help the city best capitalize on the attention.

"It's another event that continues to take the brand of Las Vegas to another level. ... The eyes of the sports world will definitely be on Las Vegas that entire week," Ralenkotter said.

GAME STRATEGY

Ralenkotter compared All-Star Week to a Super Bowl-style citywide celebration.

"It's not just the game," he said. "I was surprised at the amount of additional activities that went around it. It truly is going to be a major special event."

The convention authority; its advertising firm, R&R Partners; civic leaders and members of the local resort community will soon create a playbook for putting "a Las Vegas spin" on next year's events, Ralenkotter said.

The authority will treat the coming 12 months as an All-Star year, he added, with advertising and promotional opportunities geared at combining the NBA and Las Vegas experience.

Some elements are already in play. Ads touting the city in association with the TNT cable network's broadcasts of the series "Las Vegas" aired during last week's All-Star telecast; additional TNT tie-ins will continue throughout the NBA season.

NBA leaders will unveil next year's official All-Star logo in late March. At that time, they could also reveal a 2007 All-Star countdown clock inside the NBA Store on New York's Fifth Avenue.

Come the fall, Las Vegas will be one of a half-dozen sponsors of the NBA's European tour, further promoting the Las Vegas brand overseas.

Ralenkotter makes no secret of his desire to increase foreign visits to Southern Nevada. Through the tour and All-Star 2007, he'll latch on to dozens of key marketing partners in foreign-born NBA stars.

Barring injury, All-Star 2007 participants will likely include players from Canada and the Caribbean, China, France and Germany. Argentina, Lithuania and Spain could also be represented, based on recent roster appearances.

Tie-ins with NBA sponsors such as Southwest Airlines Co., McDonald's Corp., Anheuser-Busch Cos. and Toyota Motor Corp. are also possible as Las Vegas and the league jointly promote their shared interests.

The marketing blitz will build in phases, kicking into high gear in this year's third-quarter. Look for branding opportunities within the city, perhaps with the Las Vegas Monorail or other transportation companies, in addition to the debut of the world's second NBA Store inside a Strip shopping mall.

Ralenkotter and Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman met with the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau last week. Goodman said those conversations produced several ideas he believes will aid Las Vegas' effort next year, most related to traffic and crowd control.

Las Vegas police and representatives from the Thomas & Mack Center and Mandalay Bay also toured Houston to gather ideas on what Las Vegas will encounter a year from now.

TO THE VICTOR GO THE SPOILS

Palms owner George Maloof, whose family owns the NBA's Sacramento Kings, may have the best perspective on what's to come when dozens of young multimillionaire athletes and their fans converge in Las Vegas.

"Exposure for the city," Maloof said. "It's the first time any one of the four major sports has ever done anything like this. So you start with that, and I think it's going to blow up from there."

Ah, but there's so much more.

As long as they don't bet on the NBA, the league won't prevent players, coaches or owners from gambling, Commissioner David Stern said last week.

That could produce a windfall at the tables, given pro athletes' requisite competitiveness and sizable bankrolls.

The grand scale of All-Star week parties stretched the resources of Houston's service industry last weekend, but local bar and restaurant owners will certainly be prepared one year from now.

Same goes for limousine providers, entertainers and high-end retailers.

The Palms will host the 24 All-Star players in its Salon Suites which feature extra long beds. The hotel-casino's ballyhooed Hardwood Suite, which features a regulation basketball hoop, will likely be rented to big businesses.

"We met with Nike and they wanted the space," Maloof said. "They were overwhelmed. ... They're thinking about taking the whole 25th floor to host corporate parties" during All-Star week.

Suites on the Palms 25th floor typically cost from $5,000 to $7,500 per night. The Hardwood Suite commands $50,000 per night. And that type of spending will be replicated at resorts up and down the Strip, sources said.

ACCESS HOLLYWOOD

Interest in All-Star week isn't limited to sports fans.

As in years past, Houston hosted a cadre of A-list celebrities including Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx, singer/model Beyoncé Knowles, Snoop Dogg and "Desperate Housewives" actress Eva Longoria.

Crews from programs such as "Entertainment Tonight" were often in tow, extending All-Star week images to those who follow Hollywood more than hoops.

Ice Cube, a rapper/actor and avowed Los Angeles Lakers fan, was among the many who can't wait to hit Las Vegas next February.

"I like everything about that, man" Cube said. "You know Vegas is the shit."

If you're too unhip to realize that's a glowing recommendation, you'd better skip next year's scene altogether.

Nelly, another rapper-cum-actor, owns a small percentage of the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats. He's also looking forward to next year's celebrations.

"Vegas should be alright," he said, a wink and sly smile belying his understated comments. "Yeah, it should be alright."

New Jersey Nets star Vince Carter played coy, too, saying he's more concerned about making his eighth All-Star squad than planning what parties he might attend. But he quickly reversed course.

"I'll probably go regardless," Carter said. "If I don't make it, I'll go. It'll be interesting and exciting."

In addition to pumping $60 million to $70 million into the local economy, the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau's worldwide marketing efforts greatly benefitted from All-Star week, said G.J. "Jordy" Tollett, the bureau's president and chief executive officer.

"It's a powerful branding event," Tollett said, adding his city could never buy enough advertising to match the free media exposure visiting journalists provided.

Las Vegas officially expects a nongaming visitor impact of $27 million. Unofficially, several local officials told the Review-Journal $100 million is more realistic.

Ralenkotter hopes to hear more comments similar to O'Neal's paraphrasing of the city's widespread, "What happens here, stays here" ads.

"It goes back to pop culture and the sports world referring back to our campaign," Ralenkotter said.

"That's the kind of synergy we're talking about," he said.

Review-Journal reporter Joe Hawk contributed to this report.