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The Perfect Teammates: DVDs and Sports

Video* Fans with big home entertainment systems are the format's marketing targets.

July 24, 2002|JON MATSUMOTO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The booming DVD format has proved to be a popular vehicle for movies and music-oriented presentations because of its pristine picture, superior sound quality and extra features that make the VHS format seem positively primitive by comparison. And now the professional sports leagues are diving into this arena of home entertainment.

"We feel that the demographic of the DVD buyer and the sports demographic match up very well," says Sal Scamardo, vice president of sports marketing for USA Home Entertainment. "There are lots of boys with toys with big-screen TVs. They are usually the first to adapt to these types of new technologies. Obviously, DVD has become more mainstream, but our research has shown that the sports consumer invests a lot in home entertainment systems and are heavy DVD users."

But these men can be a particularly demanding audience, especially after they've pumped hundreds and often thousands of dollars into a big-screen television, a DVD player and a splashy 5:1 surround-sound system. That's why sports producers are anxious to take advantage of the DVD's technical superiority and ability to present enticing bonus material.

One of the primary objectives of "The Official NBA Finals 2002 Home Video," which was released Tuesday by USA Home Entertainment and NBA Entertainment, is to bring the viewer as close to the experience of sitting courtside at a game as possible. The DVD chronicles the Lakers' recent ride to their third consecutive world championship and includes plenty of floor-angle camera shots.

"[DVD and surround sound] allow us to do a lot more sound layering," notes Larry Weitzman, vice president of multimedia production and programming for NBA Entertainment. "So you don't have to worry, 'Are we pumping the music [too loud] or are we putting the fans [too far up into the audio mix]?' Here you can hear rim snaps, the sneaker squeaks, a little bit of the players grunting, plus the fans and the music. It's such a clear and rich audio output."

Q Video, which handles sales and marketing of DVDs and videos for Major League Baseball, is preparing a project called "Major League Baseball Superstar Cuts: When Baseball Rocks!" for release next month. Designed in large part to take advantage of DVD's audio capabilities and the rising sales of music DVDs, it will feature game highlights set to music by recording artists such as Uncle Kracker, Jimmy Eat World and Rob Zombie.

Then there are the extras, the material that can be included on the DVD but won't fit on a videocassette. The DVD version of "The Official NBA Finals 2002 Home Video," for example, includes a 60-minute main feature chronicling the Lakers' latest title run and 30 minutes of bonus material, including a look at Shaquille O'Neal's history as a pro basketball player and a feature comparing Michael Jordan with Kobe Bryant.

Since championship DVDs are produced quickly, however, they don't always present the best or most comprehensive bonus features found on sports DVDs. "Major League Baseball: All-Century Team," "Greatest Moments In Super Bowl History" and "Ultimate Jordan" are general titles that were created over longer periods of time and include a wealth of ancillary features.

Some of these sports DVDs, such as "Greatest Moments In Super Bowl History," are constructed so that icons appear on the screen during the regular documentary feature. By pushing "enter" on the remote when these icons appear, viewers can access such features as additional film footage, interviews and play analysis.

"These icons allow you to pull down additional information on, say, Vince Lombardi," explains Scamardo. "There might be an extra eight minutes of footage or an interview that hadn't been seen for 30 years. Before DVD, a lot of valuable material ended up on the cutting-room floor. What DVD allows us to do is to go back and approach programming in a different way, where we can give the viewers the option to elaborate on the story being told. Rather than having just two minutes on Vince Lombardi in a 60-minute program, suddenly you have 10 or 12 minutes, including a full interview."

Lou Gehrig's "luckiest man" sound bite is familiar to many baseball fans, but few have heard the speech in its entirety. The "Major League Baseball: All-Century Team" DVD includes the complete speech as bonus material.

Multiple-angle viewing capability is also a feature that is available with titles such as "Greatest Moments in Super Bowl History" and "Greatest NBA Finals Moments." Fans have the option of viewing certain key plays from different camera perspectives. Most championship DVDs do not include this feature due to production time constraints.

"Ultimate Jordan," which compiles five Michael Jordan VHS documentaries onto a two-disc DVD set, includes a bevy of bonus material. Jordan's greatest dunks, assists, moves and clutch shots are presented as enticing extras. The Nike TV commercials he made with Spike Lee are also offered.

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