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College Basketball's Great Opportunity

In Raleigh, on 440, there is a billboard which used to be a showpiece for the
Carolina Hurricanes. With a bright electronic red scroller which
changed on a regular basis, it was impossible to ignore. Recently it
changed from a hockey sign to a promotional board for the RBC Center, where the
Hurricanes once played and presumably will again someday.

The NHL and the players union are supposedly
making progress
, but is it too late? They've blown their ESPN contract
and the $60 million it was bringing in. They have at two-year deal with
NBC whenever play resumes, and in Canada, they have deals with the CBC and The
Sports Network.

For all intents and purposes, outside of the cities and regions where hockey
is a burning passion, it's faded from public awareness. You don't hear
anyone really talking about it in person, and not even much on talk radio

The NBA should be forewarned.

With both sides seeming to dig in, and the NBA talking particularly tough, a
lengthy holdout would be devastating.

The situations are not entirely analogous of course. Hockey is, in
North American terms, primarily a Canadian sport, with some strongholds in
coldweather U.S. cities, like Detroit, New York, and Boston. The NHL put
great effort into expanding into the Sunbelt, with distinctly mixed

Raleigh is a good example. After a strong debut, and a run to the
Stanley Cup finals, passions cooled even before the lockout. What will
happen afterwards is anyone's guess.

While hockey is basically irrelevant to most of North America, basketball has
much deeper roots, and while the NBA would suffer immense damage, it would take
a lot of stupidity to completely ruin it. One would assume that David
Stern and Billy Hunter have learned something from hockey's experience.
One would hope so anyway. Here
are some comments by Stern.

Certainly if pro basketball implodes, however, it's great news for college
basketball and for Duke and the rest of the ACC.

Hockey is going to take years to rebuild, and if they do manage to play this
season, they'll be a blip on the national sports scene. With an NBA
lockout, next year would belong to college basketball.

We're sorry if it happens, because while we think the NBA is not what it used
to be, it's still the NBA. But if they want to be stupid, college
basketball should be preparing, right now, to step into the void.

Duke, the ACC, and the NCAA should work overtime to find ways to take
advantage of an enormous marketing opportunity. It's a lot harder to
market individual stars than it used to be, of course, since they don't stay
around long enough to build (or, for television, to program) around anymore, but
certainly, on the most basic level, you can offer college basketball, with all
its faults, as a refreshing change from the increasingly argumentative world of
professional sports.

Beyond that, the ACC could put together a tremendous advertising campaign
featuring conference rivalries and great players. Duke and UNC could
sponsor dueling commercials of the rivalry and invite fans to vote on which ads
are the best.

Who knows? But the main thing is that if the NBA gives college
basketball this incredible gift, then it cannot be ignored or go unused.
It won't happen again anytime soon, and certainly won't happen when the fall and
winter sports calendar are so wide open.

And incidentally, if the lockout happens, with the possible exception of Doug
Flutie's Hail Mary pass, this is probably the single greatest sports marketing
opportunity in the history of Boston College.

One of the major criticisms of B.C.'s entry is that Boston
is a pro town
and has little interest in college sports, much less a
southern-based conference. However, with the Bruins at the least crippled
by the hockey lockout, and the Celtics possibly out of business indefinitely,
B.C. - and the ACC - have a real chance to build in Boston.