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A KINGS RANSOM : McNall's $35-Million Gamble Wasn't Just a Great One, It Was Golden

March 28, 1989|TRACY DODDS | Times Staff Writer

Mlakar will have to take another look at ticket packages again after this season. He has been consulting Buss, a man Mlakar calls "the master" at keeping the Forum packed. He doesn't want to overprice tickets, but he doesn't want to underestimate his product, either.

Suddenly, the Kings are no longer trying to persuade people to come to games. Now it's a question of ticket packages and ticket prices. It's a whole new game. A game much easier for the guys in the front office to play.

As Mlakar put it: "The Waynes and the Magic Johnsons of sports are in a separate class that puts them on a marketing pedestal. Athletes like that make all of our jobs that much easier. We now have a player who is the most publicized, the most sought after, the most watched in his sport.

"Those kinds of players are rare, and when you get them, you have to maximize all the opportunities. Wayne Gretzky is giving us a window of opportunity, and we have to know what to do with it."

Before the trade for Gretzky, McNall and Mlakar consulted some of the people who stood to share in the profits of such a trade, and lined up some deals to be sure that those organizations would be willing to share some of those profits.

They made a deal with Prime Ticket, for instance, to increase the number of games televised. Scheduled telecasts almost doubled, from 37 games to 62. And the rights fees went up substantially. Advertising time and fees were increased for both television and radio.

Before trading for Gretzky, McNall also worked out a deal with Buss, as owner of the Forum, to get back a percentage of the increase in rent McNall would be paying, since the rent increases as attendance increases.

He also made a deal with Ogden Allied Services Corp. to get a percentage of the increased profits that concessions company would make from an extra 3,000 or more people a game parking and buying hot dogs and beer.

Rough estimates are that Ogden will return about $500,000 and the Forum about $250,000.

The Kings' Slap Shop--their section of the Sports Den--which sells King and NHL-licensed merchandise, brought the Kings about $250,000 in the first six months after the trade.

Mlakar said the team expected increased sales in King shirts and jerseys because of the change in colors--from purple and gold to silver and black. But the combination of the color change and the Gretzky trade has made for what Mlakar calls "mind-boggling" increases in sales.

King jackets alone have sold more this year than in the last decade.

And the Kings have made a bid to buy the entire Sports Den.

Other stores that sell NHL-licensed merchandise also report huge jumps in the sales of their King merchandise--which also pays the Kings a royalty.

"The only club that rivals the Kings right now for merchandise sales is Montreal, and their shop is right in the (Montreal) Forum," Mlakar said. "Our shop is three miles away."

Sales have increased on every possible item, from golf bags to drinking glasses to baby clothes. Why, even Paulina Gretzky wears baby-sized King sweat suits.

There seems to be no end to the financial impact the trade for Gretzky has had, not only for the Kings but for everyone touched by the trade.

At every stop around the league, the Kings are now drawing either sellout crowds or the top crowds of the season, whereas they used to be one of the worst draws. Sports inc. magazine estimated that Gretzky has drawn 100,000 fans to other arenas, over and above what would have been expected for King games if he hadn't been on the roster. At an average ticket price of $20, that's an extra $2 million for teams around the league.

And his teammates are cashing in, too. Gretzky has lifted the level of play and the level of attention for everyone. It helped make Steve Duchesne an all-star defenseman this year. And that helped Duchesne make a deal for a $1.4-million contract signed just last month.

Bernie Nicholls says that playing with Gretzky is the best thing that ever happened to his career. Nicholls has already set the club scoring record this season. Not coincidentally, Gretzky has 109 assists. That scoring record will be Nicholls' ace in the hole when he asks for a new deal this summer.

And every member of the team stands to profit from the team-oriented incentive bonuses that will start to pay off as a result of the success the Kings have had this season.

Promoters of arenas all around the country are trying to get a piece of the action, too, by bidding on one of the four exhibition games the Kings have available for negotiation.

"I can't believe the interest in our exhibition games," Mlakar said. "Training camp and exhibition games used to be a major expense for us. Now, I'm sitting back and letting these guys bid against each other, and we stand to make a lot of money on those games. The promoters know that people will buy tickets to see the Kings."

Even in September.

So will the franchise make money this season? Did Gretzky put the Kings over the top in his first year?

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