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Chris Jones

Las Vegas Seeks Global Attention with NBA All-Star Weekend

13 May 2005

LAS VEGAS - Local tourism leaders have for weeks claimed hosting NBA All-Star weekend would offer an unprecedented opportunity to showcase Las Vegas before a worldwide media audience.

On Thursday, they finally narrowed down just how much that coverage would be worth. Sort of.

In North America alone, NBA All-Star weekend typically gives its host city between $8 million to $9 million in on-air, off-air and public relations exposure, said representatives of Turner Network Television, the cable network that has telecast the NBA's All-Star festivities since 2003.

But that figure seems conservative given the league's widespread international popularity, said Billy Vassiliadis, chief executive officer of R&R Partners, the local advertising and marketing firm hired by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

"It's an international audience, weeklong exposure and multiple telecasts of events," Vassiliadis said. "If you look at the last national (basketball) championship in China, I think there were 600 million viewers.

"If Yao Ming plays in an NBA All-Star Game and you get half of that audience, that's 300 million people looking at the city. ... It's a phenomenal get if we can get it."

The authority will by month's end submit a formal bid to host All-Star weekend in 2007 or 2008. A site for 2007 is expected to be named before the NBA playoffs end in late June.

Value-added coverage -- which loosely translates to "free exposure" -- would also come from the immeasurable amount of national and local media coverage that typically adjoin All-Star events, Vassiliadis said.

"From Sports Illustrated to every major newspaper's sports page, every television station in every city that has an NBA team will give coverage to their players, all emanating out of Las Vegas," Vassiliadis said. "I don't think you could replicate that kind of (media) buy."

The authority particularly desires foreign media exposure given its recently stated goal to bring approximately 8.6 million annual international visitors here by 2009.

Shortly before his city hosted the event in late February, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper told The Associated Press this year's NBA All-Star Game would be broadcast live in 214 countries in 43 languages and would reach an estimated 3.1 billion viewers.

The NBA has over the past 10 to 15 years developed a diverse fan base using a series of calculated business moves. In November 1990, it became the first major U.S. sports league to play a regular-season game outside of North America when the Phoenix Suns played the Utah Jazz twice in Japan.

That international migration took another leap forward at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. There, the gold medal-winning U.S. men's basketball squad -- the so-called "Dream Team" headed by Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan -- touched a new generation of fans who soon expanded basketball's popularity in Europe, Asia and South America.

Since 2001, NBA players also have hosted youth-oriented events known as Basketball Without Borders. This summer, the program will for the first time be conducted in China, as well as return to Argentina, Italy and South Africa.

Such outreach also has led to an increase in foreign-born NBA stars whose popularity further enhances the sport's standing in their native regions.

Of the 24 players on this year's All-Star roster, six were born outside the United States, including the Houston Rockets' Yao, Manu Ginobili (Argentina) and Tim Duncan (U.S. Virgin Islands) of the San Antonio Spurs, Dirk Nowitzki (Germany) of the Dallas Mavericks and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (Lithuania) of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Fellow All-Star Steve Nash, a Canadian who plays for the Suns, was this week named the league's Most Valuable Player. Including Duncan's wins in 2001-02 and 2002-2003, three of the past four MVP honorees were born outside the United States.