Darren Rovell

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Wednesday, November 6
Updated: November 7, 7:07 PM ET
 
League KO's Fight Night promotion

By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com

Innocently sandwiched between Chuck-A-Puck and Casino Night were two promotions that excited many in the Houston Aeros' front office.

The American Hockey League affiliate of the Minnesota Wild is averaging 5,500 fans this season, but Thursday nights remain a tough sell, with the Aeros drawing a third of their typical crowd. In order to woo more fans to the Compaq Center, the team announced it would have two Guaranteed Fight Nights, on Nov. 14 against the Milwaukee Admirals and Dec. 6 against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

It was an ill-conceived idea. It is disrespectful to the game itself and it is disrespectful to the players. It suggests that gratuitous violence is a big part of the sport and that's just not the case.
Dave Andrews, American Hockey League president
"We know how much fans enjoy a good brawl, so we are going to guarantee a fight," read a promotional announcement on the team's Web site. "If there is not a single five-minute fighting major given to a player, every fan in attendance will receive a free ticket to the following home game."

It was hardly a novel idea. Two years ago, while playing in the now-defunct International Hockey League, the Aeros played the Orlando Solar Bears in a game billed to Orlando's novice hockey fans as a Guaranteed Fight Night.

After the Aeros left for the AHL, Dave Barr, the team's president and general manager, figured the promotion would help his club attract fans on an otherwise slow night.

"We have nothing to lose," Barr said. "If there's no fight, fans get a ticket to another Thursday game. Selling hockey in Houston is a whole lot different than selling it in Portland, Maine, and I think people understand that."

AHL president and CEO Dave Andrews didn't. He ordered the Aeros to cancel the promotion.

"We told them that if they wanted to do it, they would be hit with a substantial fine," Andrews said. "We try to promote the integrity of the game in everything we do and something like this promotion doesn't fit well in our plans.

"It was an ill-conceived idea. It is disrespectful to the game itself and it is disrespectful to the players. It suggests that gratuitous violence is a big part of the sport and that's just not the case."

Maybe we'll have a Guaranteed Win Night now. But then I wouldn't want the other team thinking that we were saying that they were patsies by predicting a win.
Dave Barr, Houston Aeros president and general manager
"We're not selling fighting, we're just trying to grab attention," Barr said. "Thursday nights aren't about families and they don't consist of a young, Nickelodeon audience."

The Admirals were not told about the promotion, but Brian Manthey, the team's vice president of communications, said he would not have encouraged the league to cancel it.

"We would not have had a Guaranteed Fight Night," Manthey said. "But each team has to decide what will work in their own market. I don't think this promotion would have changed the way we approached the game, and I would guess it wouldn't have changed the way Houston approached the game either."

After canceling the promotion, Barr said the Aeros might replace it with another.

"We weren't trying to be rebels in this league. We just wanted to attract a different group of people to our games," he said. "Maybe we'll have a Guaranteed Win Night now.

"But then I wouldn't want the other team thinking that we were saying that they were patsies by predicting a win."

Lightning in a bottle
Francisco Rodriguez, the Anaheim Angels' rookie who earned the nickname K-Rod during the playoffs, had less than six innings of major-league experience before establishing himself as the team's most reliable reliever in the postseason. Likewise, the hard-throwing right-hander wasted little time after helping the Angels to a World Series title before landing his first endorsement deal.

Francisco Rodriguez became the youngest pitcher to win a World Series game.
Rodriguez returned to his native Venezuela on Saturday and by Sunday, Pepsi was holding a press conference to announce it had a three-year deal with the 20-year-old. Packaging and cans produced in Venezuela will soon feature Rodriguez's likeness.

"They're even calling him K-Rod over there," said Scott Becher, president of Sports & Sponsorships, the sports marketing firm that represented Rodriguez during negotiations.

Becher said that local companies in the Southern California area, as well as some with national presence, have expressed interest in using Rodriquez. According to 2000 Census figures, the Hispanic population is the country's second largest population group, making up 12.5 percent (35.3 million people) of U.S. population. The highest percentage of concentration is in East Los Angeles, where 96.8 percent of the population is Hispanic, according to Gould Media's Hispanic Sports Business Report. And Angels games are broadcast in Spanish on XPRS 1090 AM.

Other Venezuela players who have previously signed with Pepsi include Seattle Mariners pitcher Freddy Garcia, Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Bobby Abreu and former major league shortstop Ozzie Guillen.

A piece of Pistol Pete
The New Orleans Hornets retired the jersey of former LSU and New Orleans Jazz great "Pistol" Pete Maravich before the Hornets' first game in New Orleans. Now Maravich fans will have a chance to buy actual game-used jerseys of the Hall of Famer, who died at the age of 40 in 1988. The Maravich family is putting many of Maravich's personal items up for bid in a Grey Flannel auction that closes Nov. 13.

Auctioned items include game-used jerseys, including a 1967-68 LSU home jersey, a 1979 NBA All-Star game jersey and a 1979-80 Boston Celtics home jersey. Other items include the first basketball Maravich used during childhood, the ball that he broke the NCAA scoring record with and ball used when he scored 10,000th career point. There are also game-used shoes and rings, including his 1987 Hall of Fame ring.

"All of the items were sitting in a closet and they weren't really enjoying it," said Richard Russek, president of Grey Flannel. "With this, they can raise some money for the education of their boys."

A portion of the proceeds will go to the foundation created by former LSU coach Dale Brown, who is raising money to build a Girls and Boys Town, a care center for abused, abandoned and neglected children. Russek said he believes Maravich's college jersey could fetch the highest price paid for a game-used jersey at auction. Bids are currently topping $50,000 and Grey Flannel said it sold the current highest price jersey, a Bill Russell Celtics jersey from the 1960s, for $63,394, including buyer's commission.

Jerry West on the side of a shoe
Reebok, which signed a 10-year licensing partnership with the NBA worth more than $200 million in August, announced the debut of a new line of shoes with the league's logo on it.

Reebok hopes it can change the thinking behind the basketball shoe industry, which has been driven in the past by the popularity of players whose name or nickname is usually associated with a particular shoe. Now Reebok, which already makes on-court apparel for 19 of the 29 teams, is banking on the new-found popularity of the logo -- a silhouette of current Memphis Grizzlies president Jerry West as a player.

"Players are wearing this logo on their wristbands and headbands," said Chris Froio, Reebok's director of NBA footwear. "The cool factor of the NBA mark has definitely skyrocketed."

"League logos are like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval," said Frank Vuono, former vice president of licensing for the NFL and co-founder of 16W Marketing, a sports marketing firm. "In that sense, it could add extra credibility."

Others aren't so sure that the shoe will be an instant success.

"It sort of comes off as if the NBA just allowed them to put their logo on their shoes," said Rick Burton, director of the University of Oregon's Sports Marketing Center. "I don't think it will break through the clutter and change a kid's purchasing behavior."

Froio said Reebok will have as many as 12 NBA players wearing the shoe this season, the most prominent being Chicago Bulls forward Jalen Rose, who will appear in a television commercial for the shoes. All players in the National Basketball Development League (NBDL) will be wearing the shoes as well.

It sort of comes off as if the NBA just allowed them to put their logo on their shoes. I don't think it will break through the clutter and change a kid's purchasing behavior.
Rick Burton, director of the University of Oregon's Sports Marketing Center
"The NBA logo alone or the quality of the shoes won't do it," Burton said. "Now if Rose lights it up for 25 points a night and he's absolutely going off, then people are going to buy them."

Two Reebok shoes, retailing for $70 and $80 each, recently hit store shelves and feature the NBA logo on the shoe's tongue, sole, heel and sock liner.

"The logo is on the basketball, the jerseys and the warm-ups, so this is literally the next step," said Sal LaRocca, NBA senior vice president of global merchandising. The NBA has previously had logoed shoes in the 1970s and '80s, made by Kinney Shoe Corporation and Converse, respectively.

After Reebok's relatively unsuccessful run at making a Super Bowl shoe last year, Froio said a shoe with the NFL shield will debut in August 2003. "The Super Bowl shoe wasn't a performance shoe," Froio said. "The shoes we're making now are what the players would wear."

Darren Rovell covers sports business for ESPN.com. He can be reached at darren.rovell@espn3.com









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