Headline Central
December 25, 2004
The hype, the selling, its all their The Wall (Shaq) vs. The Corvette (Kobe)
The hype surrounding the Christmas Day Shaq-Kobe show couldn't get much bigger, and businesses from American Express to Hollywood studios are cashing in. That and this report from The South Florida Sun Sentinel's Sarah Talalay

The holiday afternoon Heat-Los Angeles Lakers matchup at Staples Center on Saturday sold out in 10 minutes and is expected to bring among the highest television ratings for a regular-season NBA telecast.

"I can't think of a more anticipated regular-season game than this," said Al Michaels, who will broadcast the game with Hubie Brown on ABC. "Most of the tremendously highly anticipated games are the World Series, the Super Bowl and NBA Finals. From the moment the trade was made and the schedule came out everyone looked at this and said `Wow.' I hand it to the league to know they had something very, very special."

The number of storylines, including Shaquille O'Neal's July trade from the Lakers to the Heat and the animosity between O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, only add to the excitement, Michaels said, adding "I can't wait for this game to start."

At Staples Center, the Lakers will be wearing white home uniforms, the Laker Girls will don red and white Santa suits, and the crowd will be typically celebrity-studded, a Lakers spokesman said. The team also will play a video tribute to O'Neal.

Sportsbook.com is showing that fans are picking the Heat over the Lakers and O'Neal over Bryant in head-to-head competition.

"The Christmas Day showdown is quickly becoming as popular at sportsbook.com as the college bowl games," said Alex Czajkowski, sportsbook.com marketing director. "I suspect it will be our most wagered on basketball game between now and March Madness."

American Express is so sold on the game it signed on as presenting sponsor of both the 3 p.m. Heat-Lakers game and the 12:30 p.m. Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers game on ESPN, which are being branded as the "NBA Christmas Day Special Presented by American Express." The company is doing advertising and promotion during both games.

The Pistons-Pacers game, a rematch of last season's Eastern Conference Finals, is the first game between the two teams since last month's brawl that resulted in the suspensions of five players and police charges filed against both players and fans.

"It's a darn good matchup with the rematch of the Eastern Conference Finals, the NBA champions, a lot of good players and now there's added layers of interest," said Dave Nagle, an ESPN spokesman.

ABC is promoting the Heat-Lakers game with pop-up ads coming out of commercial breaks on the network, and ads are appearing in Sports Illustrated and in New York's Times Square.

Holiday games always draw good ratings. During last year's Christmas games, the Cleveland Cavaliers-Orlando Magic game scored ratings nearly 70 percent higher than the season average on ESPN and the Dallas Mavericks-Sacramento Kings and Houston Rockets-Lakers games on ABC averaged about 50 percent higher than the network's season average.

The NBA will debut a new "I love this game" promotional ad featuring Catherine Zeta-Jones during the Christmas broadcasts, and 20th Century Fox will be promoting the Saturday release of the Fat Albert movie, airing trailers and ads on the JumboTron at Staples Center. Fans also will receive placards as they enter the arena that say "Go Lakers" on one side and "Hey! Hey! Hey! On Christmas Day, Fat Albert the Movie" on the other.

"The timing was perfect," said Michelle Marks, director of feature film promotion for 20th Century Fox, "and also we were hoping because of the on air, a lot of people are going to tune in to watch Shaquille O'Neal's return to L.A. We're hoping they'll see our placards on TV. It's a clever way to reach fans." That and this report from The South Florida Sun Sentinel's Sarah Talalay



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