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The Orlando Magic and New Orleans Pelicans played a preseason game Oct. 9 in Jacksonville that was attended by more than 8,000 people and made a profit.

Game makes money, could lead to more

By David Chapman, Staff Writer

On the court, the Orlando Magic lost to the New Orleans Pelicans in the team's first preseason matchup.

Off the court, those who helped put on the October event in Jacksonville considered the game a win.

"No. 1, it was a great crowd," said Alan Verlander, city Sports and Entertainment director. "And No. 2, we made a profit, that's huge."

The City and SMG partnered to bring the game to Jacksonville, which resulted in a $10,632 profit, $6,713 of which goes toward the city's general fund. The final tally is a turnaround from the last major basketball game the city promoted and organized, the Navy-Marine Corps Classic that lost about $700,000 because of various factors.

The festivities for the latest NBA game weren't relegated to just the matchup itself.

NBA legends were in town three days to visit local schools and take part in events showcasing the game. The star treatment for the former stars, including Julius Erving and George Gervin, included spending $2,200 for them to play golf at TPC Sawgrass and $3,550 worth of transportation expenses through a limousine service.

A city-organized NBA Fan Fest and block party outside the arena attracted thousands Downtown before tipoff. And, a reception the evening before honored local basketball great Artis Gilmore.

In all, city officials hope the show put on will lead to a larger — much larger — NBA presence in Jacksonville.

Inside the numbers

Total expenses to put on the game and related events were a little more than $306,000.

Net ticket sales of more than $219,000 helped offset that.

There were 6,713 tickets sold — the city receives $1 for each sold as part of a facility fee — and a total of 9,017 tickets were issued, which included those sold, given to nonprofits and comps.

Scanned attendance was 8,255, which Verlander said beat early predictions of 7,000-8,000 who might come Downtown to take in the game. The largest expense went to the two participating teams. Both NBA franchises received a $100,000 guarantee.

On the city side, the fan fest and block party before the game had expenditures of more than $14,000, down from the budgeted amount of $23,000.

To get the word out about the game, SMG and the city spent more than $32,000 on marketing and advertising in local publications and spots on radio and TV. That expense was the second costliest line item.

"We try to use the connections we have," Alex Alston, SMG sales and marketing director, said of the dedicated marketing plan.

The third highest expense went to five special guests.

The price of legends

Former basketball greats Erving, Gervin, Rick Barry, David Thompson and Christian Laettner were brought in through their relationship with Gilmore.

They lent star power to the event itself and spent time at several area schools the day before the game talking to students. While there, they read to children and told students the importance of receiving an education.

Star power does cost, though.

In addition to the golf and transportation costs, there was$15,000 for appearance fees — Erving received $5,000, while the other four received $2,500 apiece.

Verlander said the former players generally make more elsewhere and the relationship with Gilmore resulted in a negotiated discount.

Another $2,600 was for flights in and out of the city. Laettner, a Ponte Vedra Beach resident, didn't require the expense.

Added up, the cost of the stars cost just more than $24,000, but Verlander said it was an expense well worth it.

"I think it's extremely important," he said. "Those guys have a huge platform around the country, not only in basketball, but in the sports world. They saw what Jacksonville was all about and it's another way to get the brand out."

What's next

Verlander said the end game of establishing NBA relationships and hosting games contributes to Brown's end game of wanting a permanent team in Jacksonville.

"It's something he has clearly stated," Verlander said.

The city also has hosted preseason games in 2008 and 2009.

A week after the event, Alex Martins, Magic CEO, sent Brown a letter thanking him and the city for the hospitality.

He called it a "perfect opportunity" for the start of the Magic's 25th anniversary season.

"It's always a pleasure to bring NBA basketball to our Magic fans in Northeast Florida," Martins said in the letter.

Shortly after the game, discussions to bring a Magic-affiliated NBA Development League — essentially a minor league team — to Jacksonville were reported.

Verlander said an ownership group would have to approach the city, similar to what Mark Frisch and Sunshine Soccer Group did this year to pitch a North American Soccer League expansion.

"Nothing has officially been presented yet," he said.

Even if one is proposed, he said the NBA will tell the city a strategy to pursue instead of developing its own.

Until anything materializes there, NBA fans should expect to see future preseason games in Jacksonville.

dchapman@baileypub.com

@writerchapman

(904) 356-2466

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