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The Shaq Derby: Lakers Get Their Man | THE COMPETITION

Clippers Try to Find Good News in This

July 19, 1996|CHRIS BAKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Marketing the Clippers, one of the NBA's worst teams, has never been easy.

But the job got harder Thursday with the Lakers signing Shaquille O'Neal to a $120-million, seven-year contract.

"The Clippers are a dead duck," said Fred Ross, owner of Front Row Center Tickets in Westwood. "We sell very few Clipper tickets. [The signing of O'Neal] makes them more of a secondary team in a first-place market."

The Lakers are raising ticket prices and ticket brokers are likely to charge more for premium seats at the Forum.

"Right now there's tremendous media hysteria based on the fact that a superstar is coming to L.A., and everyone thinks their ticket is worth its weight in gold," Ross said. "The first 10 games will probably be a big deal, but give it a month [for the price of tickets to fall]. We're not buying hundreds of Laker tickets.

"It's already an expensive seat, where can they go from there? They're raising $9.50 tickets to $21. There may be a situation of whether the public will pay for a team that doesn't meet expectations if they don't win a championship."

The Clippers, who finished last in the NBA in home attendance last season, with an announced average of 10,111, probably will market their season tickets with a pitch that they're cheaper than Laker tickets and they have better seat locations available.

Most Clipper tickets were priced from $35 to $10 last season, while most Laker tickets ranged from $100 to $9.50. Courtside seats at the Forum cost $500 last season and will be raised to $600; the Clippers charged $275 for courtside seats. The Clippers plan to raise ticket prices by an average of 26 cents next season.

"Anything that raises the interest of NBA basketball in Los Angeles is good for both teams," Clipper spokesman Joe Safety said. "In that regard, and since we have some great seats available for this season, there can actually be a positive effect."

The Lakers, who signed O'Neal and acquired prep sensation Kobe Bryant from the Charlotte Hornets for center Vlade Divac, are expected to contend for their first NBA title since 1988.

Will the Clippers, who have been inactive in the free-agent market in recent years, sign free agents to help them secure their first playoff berth since 1992-93?

"We wish the Lakers well, but irrespective of what they do, we're really just trying to take care of our business and ensure that we continue to turn things around," Safety said.

Although they hope to retain free-agent center Brian Williams, who averaged career highs of 15.8 points and 7.6 rebounds last season, the Clippers may not be willing to meet Williams' contract demands. Sources said Williams is looking for a seven-year deal of about $105 million.

Although the Lakers are expected to announce plans for a new arena to replace the Forum, Clipper management isn't expected to reconsider a move to Anaheim.

The Clippers recently rejected a $95-million, 12-year deal to move to the Pond, where they have averaged 15,954 for 15 regular-season games over the last three seasons, to remain at the Sports Arena, where they averaged 9,074 last season.

They plan to play six regular-season games and one exhibition game at the Pond in 1996-97.

The Coliseum Commission hopes to build an $84-million to $90-million arena seating 18,700 to replace the Sports Arena, which opened in 1959 and is now the NBA's oldest arena.

The new arena would include 84 luxury suites, 1,100 club seats and a practice facility, like the America West Arena in Phoenix, home of the Suns, and would be built in the parking lot adjacent to the Sports Arena.

Many obstacles remain, however.

The Coliseum Commission must first secure a new lease with the state, which owns the land under the Sports Arena and Coliseum. The current lease, which expires in 2005, doesn't include the land where the new arena is planned.

But if the Lakers announce plans for a new arena, it may be more difficult for the Coliseum Commission to secure financing.

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