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NBA PLAYOFFS | LAKERS VS.SUNS

L.A. Fans, Businesses Hoping to Go to Town

The streets of the city would be `electrified' by a Laker-Clipper series, business leader says.

May 06, 2006|Greg Johnson | Times Staff Writer

Get ready for the "Hallway Series," possibly coming soon to a T-shirt, ball cap or coffee mug near you.

There is that slight matter of the Lakers' do-or-die playoff game tonight in Phoenix against the resurgent Suns. But if the Lakers manage to clear that not-insignificant hurdle, the NBA will try to flood Los Angeles with merchandise carrying the "Hallway Series" moniker and logos of the hometown Clippers and Lakers.

The league hopes to stay a step ahead of a swift-moving and often-illegal army of T-shirt manufacturers that also will be scrambling to turn a profit should the long-awaited postseason series with the Clippers and Lakers materialize.

"There's probably a lot of that [unlicensed] stuff already being manufactured," said David Carter, executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute. "The only problem is that if the Lakers don't win [tonight] then you'll see it all for sale at the end of freeway exit ramps in L.A. and Orange County on Sunday morning."

It's too soon to tell whether "Hallway Series" will join "Three-peat" and "Da Bears" in the sports marketing lexicon.

The "hallway" is a reference to the 70-foot strip of concrete-floored hallway that separates the Laker and Clipper locker rooms in the bowels of Staples Center. The arena's operators have dreamed of a Hallway Series since the downtown arena was completed in 1999.

The name pays homage to -- or steals from -- the Big Apple's legendary "Subway Series" between baseball's New York Mets and Yankees, and the increasingly intense "Freeway Series" that pits the Dodgers against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

As for which franchise would reap the most benefit from a Hallway Series, sports marketers agree that the Clippers, a perennial doormat, would have everything to win in a Hallway Series and the storied Laker franchise would have everything to lose.

"From a regional perspective, a Hallway Series would be fantastic," Carter said. "Both teams would really want to use it to make a positioning statement. For the Lakers, it's 'We're still Goliath.' For the Clippers, it will be saying 'It's time for a changing of the guards, forwards, centers and everyone else.' "

The Clippers on Friday opted for diplomacy, maintaining that they'll gladly play whichever team shows.

But Phil Jackson abruptly dismissed speculation about a best-of-L.A. basketball tournament: "That's just garbage. That's distraction." he said. "We have a series that is still in hand. We just can't even think about anything else but the Suns. That's all."

The NBA and its franchises aren't the only organizations with an interest in the economic effect of a home-and-home series featuring the two NBA squads.

Television network executives with an eye on ratings, however, probably would opt for a matchup that involves teams from different parts of the country.

"Unfortunately, an intracity rivalry normally does not create as high a rating as competition between teams from two different regions of the country," said New York-based consultant Neil Pilson, a former broadcast industry executive. "Look at the Yankees-Mets World Series and the Oakland and San Francisco World Series, neither of which tracked as well as teams from two different parts of the country."

Who's playing, however, is only part of the broadcast equation. A Hallway Series could generate strong ratings nationally, Pilson said, "if you get a stick-in-your-eye kind of series that goes seven games, all of them down to the wire." A lengthy series also would give broadcasters time to flesh out a Los Angeles story line that pits the Clippers' Cinderella role against the Lakers' storied history and the presence of Kobe Bryant, one of the league's brightest stars.

Downtown boosters might have personal favorites, but, given the economic benefits, they'll cheer for a seven-game series.

"The streets of downtown would be electrified," said Carol E. Schatz, president and chief executive of the Central City Assn. of Los Angeles. "It would be especially good for restaurants who do box office business every time there's an event in Staples. Parking lot operators also would do nicely and the entire downtown community would benefit."

The Hallway Series would represent new ground for the NBA, which has never had a playoff series involving two teams that play in the same building.

Though there will be minor logistical issues to be surmounted if the series develops, Staples Center has played host to many postseason contests, and the two local NBA teams play each other during the regular season.

Staples Center crews are adept at swapping out the court floors -- each team has its own -- and restocking souvenir shops to mirror which franchise is the home team.

NBA rules do prohibit teams from crossing each other's path on the way to their benches. So, when they are the "visitors," the Lakers will exit their locker room via a back door that opens to a little-used hallway that will keep them from bumping into the Clippers.

Times staff writer Mike Bresnahan contributed to this report.

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