The ABA jumps back on the court
The American Basketball Association, the upstart basketball league that gave us Dr. J, red-white-and-blue basketballs and the three-point shot, will resume play next month after a 24-year hiatus.
The league, which operated in the U.S. from 1967 to 1976 before the majority of its teams merged with the National Basketball Association, will kick off its season on December 26 in 10 U.S. cities-Anaheim, Chicago, Indiana, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Memphis, New York and Tampa Bay (with one pending at press time). Teams will play an 80-game regular schedule, from December to June, and then compete in a five-team playoff. The league’s original founders, who retained the rights to the ABA name, are bankrolling the league’s current revival, which they are calling the ABA 2000.
In terms of its licensing strategy, the ABA is focusing most of its efforts on the youth market, says Steven Davis, CEO at New York-based Hot Dogs Inc., which is overseeing the league’s licensing, marketing and TV sales. Recently, Hot Dogs signed its first deal with Wilson Sporting Goods to create the ABA’s official red-and-white basketballs, which will be available at specialty sports retailers this month. At press time, Davis says he was also close to announcing separate agreements with an apparel and shoe company. The ABA clothing and footwear will feature a strong urban edge that’s similar to the athletic lifestyle lines of popular youth brands like FUBU and Ecko, says Davis. Other product categories that the ABA is still planning to license include toys, video games, trading cards, glasses and outerwear.
Whether kids will be willing to support a professional basketball league other than the NBA remains a big question mark, though. Both the Women’s National Basketball Association and the Continental Basketball Association have struggled to attract spectators of late. Davis believes the ABA will succeed because it’s offering fans a different brand of basketball. For one, he claims the ABA game will be faster than the NBA’s due to rule changes, such as eliminating time-outs during player substitutions. It will also be cheaper.
Whereas most kids can’t afford to attend an NBA game, for which the average ticket price is US$70, Davis says the ABA’s tickets will range from US$8 to US$20. To further draw kids in, the ABA is planning to hold rap concerts before some of its games and during the half-time show. Though the league had yet to sign a national TV deal, Davis says it has secured local TV and radio agreements with broadcasters in each of the 10 markets where the ABA teams will play.