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Chris Jones
 

Local Tourism: All-Star Game Plan in the Works

8 August 2005

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Five-hundred sixty-two days remain before Las Vegas will briefly become professional basketball's brightest stage.

Despite that seemingly lengthy span, local tourism leaders are already planning how to best cash in on the widespread attention that will accompany this city's role as host of the National Basketball Association's All-Star Weekend in February 2007.

"It's going to be like New Year's Eve for a whole week," Rossi Ralenkotter, president of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said Friday, moments after NBA Commissioner David Stern officially confirmed what had been one of the worst-kept secrets in local sports.

In the months before the likes of LeBron James, Shaquille O'Neal and Yao Ming cast extra-long shadows across the hardwood at the Thomas & Mack Center on Feb. 18, 2007, ads touting Las Vegas as a hip destination for traveling sports fans will be seen by millions of sports fans worldwide.

Countless media reports touting this city's amenities alongside talk of slam-dunks or hometown hoops heros will also abound. And it's up to Ralenkotter & Co. to help shape those messages, a challenge the longtime sports fanatic admits he's thrilled to take on.

"The excitement that you saw today will continue through 2007," Ralenkotter said. "The fact that we've now got the opportunity to put our brand with the NBA has unlimited possibilities. And we can get really, really creative with this."

Over the next month, the convention authority and its contracted advertising company, Las Vegas-based R&R Partners, will work with NBA marketers to develop advertising strategies for All-Star 2007. Upcoming spots could include basketball-themed "Vegas Stories" ads as well as short-term campaigns featuring NBA players, retired basketball legends and some of the league's most-famous fans.

Local resort operators will also be brought into the mix, Ralenkotter said, to maximize the city's exposure.

Since the numbers seven and 11 are so important in Las Vegas casinos, Ralenkotter hinted that the number seven -- as in 2007 -- could also play in the upcoming marketing push.

The first local basketball ads could make their debut in October, perhaps in conjunction with an Oct. 28 exhibition game between the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers at the Thomas & Mack Center, which is scheduled to air nationwide on ESPN.

Overall, Las Vegas expects to draw 475 million "media impressions" through the All-Star experience, including a push centered around next year's event in Houston, Ralenkotter said. But Stern said Friday that figure may be low considering the international media exposure the game historically generates.

"There's no global marketing quite like being associated with an NBA All-Star Game," Stern said. "The (media) crews will descend on Las Vegas from all over the world, and there will be features sent back to cities" around the globe.

Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp Ltd., a Chicago-based sports consultancy firm, on Friday said Stern's decision to bring the NBA's second-highest profile event -- behind the Finals -- to Las Vegas was a milestone in the city's quest to become a larger player in professional sports.

While hosting All-Star events should be relatively easy given this city's convention expertise, Ganis said the key unanswered question is whether Las Vegas residents would support recurring sports events such as a regular season schedule. While that subject, for now, remains academic, Ganis added there's no question NBA All-Star Weekend will be a boon for local tourism.

"It will show the city to people in other parts of the world like China, Europe, South America and Japan," Ganis said. "I'm sure they'll have a lot of the flavor of Las Vegas on the broadcasts, which is part of the appeal in coming there. ... This will be a fabulous commercial for Las Vegas."

Kara Kelley, the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce president and a newly appointed member of the convention authority board, said Friday All-Star Weekend will also pump cash into local businesses that have no direct connection to basketball, including restaurants and retailers. The All-Star draw could also lure first-time visits from outside business leaders, offering them first-hand exposure to Southern Nevada's vibrant business environment, she added.

Stern said it's also possible Las Vegas could join a regular rotation of All-Star host destinations, allowing it to routinely capitalize on the event's media exposure.

The cost of Las Vegas' initial basketball-themed ads will be deducted from the authority's $80 million advertising budget for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2006. Extra cash could be added as needed, Ralenkotter said.

The authority's 2006-07 budget has not been determined, but authority leaders will have a better idea how much more NBA-related ad money would be needed when that budget is developed beginning early next year.

The event is expected to have a direct nongaming economic impact of $27 million, Ralenkotter said.

"We know how to market a product," Rory Reid, chairman of the Clark County Commission, said Friday of Las Vegas and its leaders. The NBA is equally adept at marketing, he added, concluding that, "Las Vegas will help sell the All-Star Game, and the All-Star Game will help us sell Las Vegas."