|Tuesday, September 9
Updated: September 10, 4:31 PM ET
Win or lose, Cavaliers are part of the package
By Darren Rovell
Michael Jordan is gone, but NBA teams already have found a new No. 23 to help them sell tickets.
The appeal of the most-hyped rookie in league history has caused the majority of NBA teams to include games featuring the Cleveland Cavaliers in their ticket packages, hoping that the draw of the 18-year old who has already inked more than $110 million in endorsements from Nike, Upper Deck and Coca-Cola, will encourage fans to buy a group of games.
The Miami Heat are selling a four-game package, including their Nov. 12 game against the Cavs, as "The LeBron James Plan." The Phoenix Suns Web site features a picture of James next to offers for half-season, 15- and 10-game packages that include the team's Oct. 30 matchup with Cleveland. The Denver Nuggets are including their Dec. 2 showdown with the James Gang as a free ticket to anyone that buys a 10-game package. The Nuggets, who tied the Cavaliers for a league-worst 17-65 last season, are calling the game pitting James against their No. 1 draft pick Carmelo Anthony the "Rookie Rumble."
"The game is going to be an easy sellout," said Paul Andrews, the Nuggets' senior vice president of ticket sales. "LeBron – along with now having Andre Miller and Carmelo – is going to drive our ticket packages to a level we haven't seen in ten years."
Andrews said this year's total for ticket package plans might surpass the previous high of 4,500, which the team sold for the 1994-95 season after they shocked the No. 1-ranked Seattle SuperSonics in the first round of the playoffs just months before.
On Monday, when the Nuggets formally announced their ticket packages, they immediately sold 150, Andrews said.
The Sonics are including their game with Cavaliers in one of their two six-game packages. Every team included in the packages except the Cavaliers made the playoffs last season.
"Fans calling us say that they want to see the Lakers and they want to see LeBron," said Laura Kussick, the team's senior vice president of ticket sales. "We try to include the most popular teams, and this year the Cavs are definitely among them."
Team executives and sports marketers say that it's possible that the demand to see James could result in the Cavs, regardless of their record, playing to sellout crowds for all 41 games on the road.
"Something like this has never happened in the history of any sport," said Jon Spoelstra, former New Jersey Nets president and author of "Ice to the Eskimos: How To Market A Product Nobody Wants." "But as a result of the proliferation of cable and the Internet, LeBron might be coming into the league with more publicity than any other player, including those that have played in college for four years."
"Even if he's not playing well or the team is not playing well, he's only coming to Utah once," said Jim Olson, vice president of ticket sales for the Jazz, who play the Cavaliers on Jan. 17. "After the two Lakers games, I think the Cavs game is going to sellout next."
The Cavaliers, who are scheduled to play on 13 national television broadcasts in the upcoming season, are obviously the largest beneficiary of James' popularity. James' jersey is already among the 10 best-selling NBA player jerseys this year, according to SportScanINFO, a sports retail tracking firm.
The team's attendance dropped 21 percent last season to 11,497 fans per game and season ticket sales had reportedly dropped to 3,000. The only sellouts were the two games against Jordan and the Washington Wizards.
"We definitely expect to sellout more games this year," said Cavaliers president Len Komoroski, who noted it was too early to say whether James will help sellout all the team's home games. "We are selling tickets rapidly, but there's still almost two months before the season tips off."
"When Michael Jordan came to town and played in other arenas, there was a different electricity in the building," Spoelstra said. "Many people are anticipating that LeBron will be able to generate this same type of electricity and he hasn't even played his first official game yet."
Komoroski said that many fans from outside the Cleveland area are buying tickets. Thanks to "King James," Cavs games will be broadcast on affiliates in Columbus and Cincinnati.
In order to best deal with the popularity of James, the Cavs – who will pay James $12.96 million over the next three seasons -- have hired an additional public relations executive and plan to hire a security director within the next couple weeks.
While team officials want to be aggressive in promoting James in their ticket packages, they also have to be careful not to promise that he'll play in each and every game, since his appearance can never be guaranteed.
"We're saying it's LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, just like we did when Michael Jordan came to town," Andrews said. "We're not saying he's definitely going to play and that's the risk the consumer takes. But if they don't buy the game, it's going to be sold out anyway."
So too will other Nuggets games, thanks to the fact that some fans of James might have to buy 10 tickets to see him play just once.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.