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NBA PLAYOFFS

Buss Happily Absorbs Lakers' Closing Costs

June 02, 2001|LARRY STEWART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cynics and conspiracy-theory advocates envision the NBC brass huddling with Jerry Buss in a smoke-filled room.

They figure an NBC hotshot might say to the Lakers' owner something like, "Hey, Jerry, we need a favor that can help both you and us. Tell your players and coaches we don't need another sweep.

"Because your Lakers swept San Antonio, we lost three games and three big paydays. We could have made $7 million in advertising off each of those three games.

"For the finals, the take for each game is nearly double that.

"And think about you. Think about all that ticket money--and the concessions and the parking and the merchandise sales.

"Come on, Jerry, you know what needs to be done."

Of course, no such meeting would ever take place. And as for Buss being concerned about losing money on games not being played because the Lakers are being too efficient, that isn't happening.

"Winning supersedes everything else," Buss told The Times. "You don't get into this business with the idea of making a lot of money.

"You get into sports to win. If you don't enjoy winning, you might as well get out of the sports business.

"Most sports teams do not yield any kind of return. A lot of them lose money, and the ones that don't yield a very small percentage [of profit]."

Last year, the Lakers played 23 of a possible 26 games on their way to the NBA championship.

If they sweep the NBA finals, which begin Wednesday at Staples Center, they will complete a history-making 15-0 run.

That would mean eight fewer playoff games than a year ago, and five fewer home games.

Figuring exactly what a home playoff game means to the Lakers, Staples Center and local Laker broadcasters isn't easy. Even Buss isn't sure.

He estimates ticket sales for one playoff game at $1.5 million, with concessions, parking and merchandise sales generating another $500,000 or so.

That money goes to the Lakers, the NBA and Staples. One source said Staples' take, after expenses, is $400,000. Another source said it was more like $200,000.

Buss did not say what the Lakers' cut was. It all gets a little convoluted anyway.

Philip Anschutz, the majority owner of Staples, is also a minority owner of the Lakers, with a 27.4% interest. Ed Roski, who has a 2.6% interest in the Lakers, is also a minority owner of Staples. And Fox, which televises home Laker games, has a 40% stake in Staples.

Buss said you can't look simply at how much money is being lost by games not being played.

"Winning precipitates dividends in future years," he said. "We can make up the money we lose."

He said his team is topped out on season-ticket sales but that another championship, and particularly a championship won in impressive fashion, would mean the Lakers' broadcast partners could charge more for advertising next season.

Don Corsini, vice president and general manager of Channel 9, agreed.

"Whatever happens, happens," Corsini said. "If the Lakers sweep a series and we lose a telecast, you can't worry about it.

"Winning is the most important thing. It's great for next year."

Advertising revenue is the main way to make up losses caused by sweeps. Merchandise sales is another, although Buss said most of that revenue goes to the league.

During the first three rounds of the playoffs, Channel 9 and Fox Sports Net each televised two games, losing out on two others because of Laker sweeps.

According to sources, a Channel 9 playoff telecast generates about $1.8 million in advertising, which, after rights fees and production costs, means a profit of about $600,000.

A Fox Sports Net cable telecast generates about $1.5 million in advertising and a profit of about $500,000.

A KLAC radio broadcast generates $130,000-$150,000 in advertising.

"We had a staff meeting Tuesday and some of our sales people actually said they hoped the Lakers would lose a game or two," said Dan Weiner, head of sales for KLAC. "I reminded them they could make up for any lost revenue next year."

Sheron Bellio, who produces Larry Burnett's KLAC pregame show, said, "I know I'm rooting for a sweep."

The big bucks spring from national telecasts. NBC brings in about $7 million a game from advertising during the conference finals, and $10-15 million a game during the finals.

So NBC is a big loser if there are only four games during the finals.

"We obviously would like to see a dramatic seven-game series," NBC spokesman Kevin Sullivan said. "But one of the great things about sports is, you never know what is going to happen.

"Some years are dominated by great seven-game series, some years by sweeps. You take whatever comes.

"If the Lakers end up on the verge of a historic run, interest will build.

"Look at Tiger Woods. He won the U.S. Open by 15 strokes last year, and we had the highest number of viewers ever for a U.S. Open."

But NBC also knows that a dramatic seven-game series is the best way to build interest. Ratings for the Eastern Conference finals have steadily improved, going from a 4.8 national rating for Game 3 to a 5.8 for Game 4 and a 7.3 for Game 5.

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