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Olympic Qualifier To Be On Pay-Per-View…Attaching A Fee To The Dream Team

Olympic Qualifier To Be On Pay-Per-View


August 5, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

When the U.S. men's basketball team tries to qualify for the 2004 Olympics, the only way to see the games in America will be on pay-per-view television.

HF Sports will make the games available to 52 million households with digital cable or satellite television. The price is $9.95 per game, or $59.95 for all 10 of the U.S. team's games.

"Our intent is to make it affordable," said Hector Figueroa of HF Sports, the San Juan, Puerto Rico-based company that purchased nearly all worldwide broadcast rights for the tournament.

"I believe it's time for mainstream events to go to pay-per-view for the benefit of the audience, as long as it's accessible and not at an excessive price," Figueroa said in telephone interview.

ESPN had some discussions about purchasing the rights, but they were awarded to Figueroa for between $1.5 million and $2 million, said Gennaro Marchand, the secretary general of FIBA-Americas.

Figueroa said he is currently in discussions with three companies to determine who will produce the commercial-free telecasts.

Marchand said his organization was open to new ideas for the broadcast rights because of two factors: only five games were televised in the United States during the 1999 qualifying tournament, and there was virtually no television coverage in America of last summer's World Championships in Indianapolis. The U.S. team finished sixth in that event.

"We would like to see what's going to happen. There's nothing to lose and everything to gain. I hope this goes well and many people in the U.S. enjoy it," Marchand said.

The tournament runs from Aug. 20-31, with three teams earning berths in the 2004 Olympics. The U.S. team opens play against Brazil at 10 p.m. on Aug. 20.

An exhibition game in New York against Puerto Rico on Aug. 15 will be televised by MSG Network and NBA-TV.

Figueroa said he has already made deals with networks in Yugoslavia, Greece, France, Spain and Hong Kong to televise the tournament, with other agreements pending in China and Russia.

"More than how I got the rights was why I got them, because the U.S. lost in the worlds. It had a great team -- those weren't second-class NBA players -- and it became unraveled. So that was a sign.

"There is a change going on and I think U.S. supremacy is over. That's why I decided this is an important tournament. This will be a glimpse of what will happen in the Olympics. So I went after this and paid more," Figueroa said.

Attaching A Fee To The Dream Team


August 12, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE NEW YORK TIMES. All rights reserved. 

There is little apparent logic in selling, through pay-per-view, the type of event that barely registered on Nielsen meters on broadcast and cable television.

But Hector Figueroa believes he can market 12 men's basketball games in the Americas Olympic qualifying tournament in Puerto Rico (at least eight starring the United States team) at $9.95 each or $59.95 for the full package.

The tournament starts Aug. 20, and is a chance for Team USA to redeem itself after a sixth-place finish in last year's world championships. The gold, silver and bronze medalists receive automatic berths in next year's Summer Games in Athens.

"I hope we'll get numbers that will change the history of pay-per-view," Figueroa said yesterday from Puerto Rico, where he is the chief executive of HF Sports.

Figueroa acquired the rights to the tournament for about $2 million last January from a company that bought them from FIBA, basketball's international governing body. "The condition of getting the rights was that it was time to go pay-per-view," he said. "FIBA was looking at this to see if it made sense to do mainstream events in pay-per-view at good prices, without commercials."

Figueroa kept the eight United States games and the semifinals and the bronze and gold medal games for pay-per-view, and he is willing to sell two dozen non-Team USA games to American networks. None has chosen to bid. The National Basketball Association had no input into the arrangement.

ESPN craved the United States rights and approached Figueroa soon after he made his deal. "He didn't offer us anything," said Mark Shapiro, executive vice president of ESPN.

The United States team's failure at the world championships last year did not reduce ESPN's desire for the Olympic event because of the renewed focus on winning and fielding a stronger team. "We believed the tournament would be a ratings winner on ESPN," Shapiro said. "Had those rights been available, we'd have pounced."

Pay-per-view is, by its nature, exclusionary. It limits distribution only to those who can or will pay. Viewers are resistant to paying for something they previously received free, although the modest pricing for the Olympic qualifying tournament is more affordable than a boxing card or WrestleMania.

"The American people are looking for special events," Figueroa said. "This Dream Team is special, but there are Dream Teams in Canada and Argentina. Those teams are tough."

Still, Dream Team fascination has diminished since its first incarnation in 1992, and even the presence of Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan and Jason Kidd may not rouse viewers to pay for games.

Had it been sold to cable or broadcast television, the tournament might do better than the world championships did. The United States' roster in Puerto Rico is of a higher caliber than its world championship team. But how much interest is there for a preseason tournament starring some of the best players in a league with floundering ratings?

A year ago, a combined eight games in the world championships on TNT, ESPN2 and NBC generated meager viewership, peaking at 1.3 million households for the semifinals on NBC. ESPN2's games averaged a meager 474,000 homes.

Figueroa is marketing the pay-per-view games by reminding potential buyers, in print advertisements and a TV commercial, of Team USA's debacle last year. The slogan: "The Nation's Pride Is on the Line!"

There is no formula to predict how many people will purchase games out of 52 million cable and satellite homes with pay-per-view. Dan York, senior vice president for programming at In Demand, which is distributing the Olympic tournament to cable systems, said, "On a pay-per-view basis, a small fraction of the viewers that watched the worlds on cable would qualify this event as a success."

Figueroa is making no promises, other than to say, "I hope that we get ratings that will change the history of pay-per-view."

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