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Fox Turns to NBA Official for Sports Unit Game Plan

May 05, 1999|GREG JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The National Basketball Assn.'s No. 3 executive will move to Los Angeles this summer to serve as president of a new division housing Fox Entertainment Group's sports team and arena interests, Fox said Tuesday.

Rick Welts, 46, has spent the last 17 years at the New York-based NBA, where he handled the league's marketing, consumer products and sponsorship activities. As its executive vice president and chief marketing officer, Welts also directed marketing for the premiere season of the Women's NBA and for the "Dream Team" basketball squad at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Welts will serve as president of Fox Sports Enterprises, a new company that will oversee Fox's growing sports holdings, including the Los Angeles Dodgers. Fox also owns part interests in the New York Knicks, the New York Rangers, Madison Square Garden and the new Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. The company holds options for stakes in the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Kings.

Sports marketers say Welts' challenge will be crafting a cohesive marketing plan for Fox, which is best known for its feature film, television and cable holdings. The company is locked in a rivalry with Walt Disney Co. both on athletic fields and in the competitive world of television and cable sports.

"What Rick has to do is figure out how to make sense of all the pieces that Fox has--and that's all Fox has now, pieces," said Timothy J. Leiweke, president of the Kings and Staples Center.

Welts is credited with helping to elevate the NBA from a professional sports league to one of the world's best-known brands. Along with NBA Commissioner David Stern, Welts perfected the concept of using corporate sponsors to promote players in commercials and helped to jump-start stalled NBA merchandise sales. Welts, who was named Marketer of the Year in 1997 by Brandweek magazine, also drew praise for helping protect the NBA's image during this season's unprecedented work stoppage.

At Fox, Welts will manage the company's sports enterprises as well as Sports One, a joint marketing company formed by Fox and Staples Center. Welts will be responsible for identifying new revenue streams for the sports division as well as identifying new sports-related investment opportunities.

"Welts was successful at the NBA because he understood it was more than just a game, that it was a series of marketing alliances involving the networks, the sponsors and the league," said David Carter, a principal with Los Angeles-based Sports Business Group.

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