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Best of Benjamin Spillman

Gaming Guru

Benjamin Spillman
 

NBA All-Star weekend: Spanning the globe

12 February 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- During nine seasons with the National Basketball Association's Dallas Mavericks, the long arms of German-born Dirk Nowitzki have blocked nearly 700 shots.

When the league's All-Star Game tips off in Las Vegas next Sunday, Munich, Germany-based consultant Keith Mangum is betting Nowitzki's reach will extend nearly 5,600 miles and help convince fans in the hoop star's homeland to make a trip to Southern Nevada.

"(Nowitzki) has done more for basketball in central Europe or German-speaking Europe than zillions of dollars in advertising could have done," said Mangum, chief operating officer of Mangum Management, a firm that has promoted tourism for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority since 1993.

Nowitzki is one of four foreign-born players Las Vegas boosters hope will raise the profile of the desert resort destination at a time when the United States is struggling to attract overseas visitors.

San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker is from France, Houston Rockets center Yao Ming is from China and Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash is from Canada.

For Las Vegas, the first city without an NBA team to host an All-Star Game in the league's 61-year history, the presence of Nowitzki and the other foreign players could be the most valuable aspect of the event.

"This is the first time we've taken such a domestic event and globalized it the way we have," Mangum said. "I don't think there is anything you could compare this to that would even come close to it."

The game will be televised in 210 countries and 40 languages, according to the NBA.

The international audience of tens of millions of viewers has the potential to be much more lucrative for Las Vegas than the estimated 25,000 people who will be in Southern Nevada for the game, which is expected to have a $26 million nongaming economic impact in the city.

"As a branding event this is one of the best we could have even brought to Las Vegas," Rossi Ralenkotter, president of the visitors authority, said about the global stage for the event.

In addition to the international audience for the game, the event is expected to draw 1,600 journalists to Las Vegas, many from overseas.

"The overall media value will definitely exceed the projected $26 million," Ralenkotter said.

By the time the game ends, Las Vegas will have chalked up 475 million media impressions in domestic and foreign markets, Ralenkotter said.

The foreign exposure comes as Las Vegas, and the United States as a whole, is struggling to restore overseas visitation, which has declined 17 percent nationally since 2000.

Concerns about travel delays, overzealous security and an unwelcome environment for foreign travelers in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have been blamed for the national decline.

In 2000 more than 2 million visitors came from overseas to Las Vegas. The number dropped as low as 1.2 million in 2002 and has since increased to 1.8 million.

The number of Las Vegas visitors from Nowitzki's Germany dipped from 99,000 in 2001 to 82,000 in 2002. It rose to 119,000 in 2004 but fell again in 2005 to 106,000.

Mangum said telecasts of the game and other NBA events in Las Vegas should drive interest among wealthy, young to middle-aged sports fans.

"It will allow you to have exposure, and exposure is what it is all about in destination marketing today," Mangum said. "We have to be talking to the consumer, to drive to the consumer to want to go to Vegas."

The All-Star Game is expected to boost the awareness of Las Vegas not only in Europe but also emerging markets like China and the rest of Asia.

Daniel Shen, president of Lion Tours USA in Los Angeles, specializes in bringing Chinese and Asian tourists to the West Coast. He estimated 80 percent of the 35,000 Chinese his company brings to the United States annually also visit Las Vegas.

But the city's reputation as a haven for gambling and vice hampers its mainstream appeal in China, he said. Chinese visitors often leave their Las Vegas stop off their official itinerary.

"Some of the people don't like to mention it," Shen said. "To them, Las Vegas is still a gaming city."

Images from the All Star Game will broaden the perception of Las Vegas in China, especially among people who are wary of the Sin City reputation, he said.

"To those people ... they have a good excuse in coming in Vegas," Shen said.