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NBA lockout is a boon for Chinese basketball league

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It may not have the same cachet as a Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics match-up, but the Guangsha Lions' double overtime season-opening victory over the Tianjin Gold Lions on Sunday may be a sign of good things to come for the Chinese Basketball Assn.

Blessed by the NBA lockout, the struggling league has opened its checkbook to American free agents that should help snare a larger following in the biggest basketball-loving country in the world with an estimated 300 million fans.

One of the newest additions, Wilson Chandler, scored 43 points and grabbed 22 rebounds to lead the Golden Bulls on opening day. The former Denver Nugget, who signed for $1.7 million, averaged only 15.3 points per game last season in the U.S.

“Chandler seemed to have basketball god in him when he beat Tianjin all by himself. It was so easy for him. Just like a practice,” wrote a micro-blogger named Gechao on the popular Twitter-like service, Sina Weibo.

Other arrivals include another former Nugget, J.R. Smith, who inked a record $3-million contract to play for the Zhejiang Golden Bulls and 11-year NBA veteran Kenyon Martin, who signed a $2.6-million deal to play for the Flying Tigers in the western province of Xinjiang, better known for its ethnic strife and government crackdowns.

The Washington Wizards’ Yi Jianlian is also returning to his home country to play for the defending CBA champions, the Guangdong Tigers. 

They join established stars in the league such as former Dallas Maverick James Singleton and former two-time all-star Stephon Marbury, who has an almost cult-like following in China. The Beijing Ducks’ starting point guard has more than 140,000 subscribers to his micro-blog, where he posts pictures of himself riding the city’s subway.

Already, the CBA has raised its number of corporate sponsors from 16 to 22 this season, and the national sports broadcaster  CCTV5 has increased the number of games it shows each week from three to four to make up for the lost weekly NBA game.

That’s a huge boost for a largely hapless league that was reportedly losing an average of $18 million a season and had to cut the 2009-10 season short by 18 games to save about $9 million (the recent contracts handed to former NBA players were provided by a handful of richer teams that have strong sponsors such as banks and coal mine bosses).

China has long been mined by the NBA and sneaker companies for its market potential. Players such as Kobe Bryant often visit on promotional tours. Ron Artest, Shane Battier and Jason Kidd endorse Chinese sneaker brand Peak. One of the main reasons Marbury decided to play here was to push sales of his footwear line, Starbury. 

It remains to be seen if more NBA players are willing to make the move east. Bryant was rumored in August to have been eyeing China, and Guangsha is reportedly wooing free agent center Tyson Chandler.

Those that do come will have to overcome vast cultural differences that famously confronted not only Marbury but Bonzi Wells. The former Portland Trailblazer was averaging more than 40 points a game for the Shanxi Brave Dragons in 2009 but never returned to the team after taking holiday only 14 games into the season.

“It was a big cultural shock for me,” he later explained.

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--David Pierson

Twitter.com/dhpierson

Photo: The Chinese basketball team's captain, Wang Zhizhi, is thrown into the air as the team celebrates its win in the gold medal basketball game against South Korea in the Asian Games last year. Wang plays for the Bayi Rockets in the Chinese Basketball Assn. Credit: Wong Maye-E/Associated Press.

Does fantasy football affect workplace productivity?

New Orleans Saints Football teams are gearing up for the start of the season, as are more than 21 million U.S. workers in fantasy sports leagues. But bosses shouldn’t be alarmed, according to one employment consultancy.

Employees may spend as much as nine hours a week perfecting their fantasy drafts before the National Football League kickoff on Sept. 8, said Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. The impact on workplace productivity, however, will be minimal, the firm said.

Challenger actually suggests that employers encourage company leagues to boost morale and output, claiming that “in the long run, this may lead to increased employee retention.” Other research has found that fantasy sports boost camaraderie among employees and networking.

More than 70 million free and paid leagues operate in the U.S. and Canada, with the average player belonging to more than two, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Assn. Membership has spiked 60% in the past four years to 32 million players – with 80% of them involved in football.

And of all full-time workers in the U.S., 19% are fantasy sports players.

A Challenger survey last year found that most fantasy participants didn’t find playing in a league to be very distracting. On a scale of one to 10, where one represented no influence on productivity, nearly 70% of players chose four or below.

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-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (28) is tripped up by Oakland Raiders cornerback Walter McFadden (22). The Saints will play the Green Bay Packers during the regular season kickoff on Sept. 8. Credit: Cary Edmondson / US Presswire

Kia signs Clippers' Blake Griffin to multiyear sponsorship deal

Kia Motors America and Los Angeles Clippers all-star Blake Griffin are extending their relationship, which started with the NBA player dunking over a Kia Optima sedan earlier this year, as the company announced a multiyear deal that will make Griffin a global spokesman for the automaker.

Kia SlamDunk USAToday ImageThe company did not disclose the terms of the deal. But the partnership will involve Griffin appearing on advertising material, making appearances for the company and partaking in other brand events, according to a statement.

The extension increases Kia's presence in advertising and sponsorships related to the NBA, whose audience Kia described as urban and multiculturally diverse, with educated and passionate fans.

"We want to engage that passion, translate that passion, and we believe it has translated," said Tim Chaney, Kia's director of marketing communications.

Griffin's relationship with the car brand began in February when the power forward came up with the idea to jump over a car at the NBA All-Star weekend's slam-dunk contest, which was held in Los Angeles this year.

"Once I knew that Blake wanted to jump over a car, we thought that Kia was the only brand it really made sense for him to do it with since they were the NBA partner in terms of the slam-dunk contest," said Jaymee Messler, Griffin's spokeswoman.

The dunk paid off for KIA, generating buzz in social media and in sports coverage as well as instantly affecting consumer activity online and at dealerships, Chaney said.

"We saw an opportunity and had high hopes, but it greatly even exceeded our expectations," he said.

Soon after, KIA produced a commercial based on the dunk.

Griffin said he is excited to work with automobile company on an extended level.

"Kia is a company that has enjoyed a tremendous amount of success, especially recently, and I am really excited to be working with them on a larger level," Griffin said in an email from his representatives.

For Griffin, the reigning NBA rookie of the year, his partnership with Kia adds to a growing list of sponsorships, among them Nike Inc. and Subway.

"Blake is just really interested in growing with partners that make sense," Messler said. "He's being strategic about the partnerships he's working with."

As for the dunk commercial, Griffin said he thought it was pretty cool.

"The first time I saw the commercial it dawned on me that this dunk was going to be remembered for a long time," he said.

 

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-- Salvador Rodriguez

twitter.com/sal19

Photo: Blake Griffin dunks over a 2011 Kia Optima at the 2011 NBA All-Star weekend. Credit: Kia Motors America

NBC holds on to the Olympics [video]

 

NBC said today it won the rights to broadcast the Olympics through 2020 for a whopping $4.38 billion.Why would the network make such a big bid when it lost money on the Vancouver games? Reporter Joe Flint explains in the video, above, and in his Company Town blog post.

 

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--Pat Benson

Bond fund star Gundlach wants to buy Buffalo Bills

Star L.A. bond investor Jeffrey Gundlach now has his eyes on a different kind of asset: an NFL team.

Gundlach, who heads DoubleLine Capital, told a Wall Street Journal blogger that he’s interested in buying the Buffalo Bills, the home team of his youth:

“I’m trying to put a group together to buy it,” he said Thursday, adding that he has floated the idea to several wealthy clients for whom he manages money. The discussions are in the early stages, he said. “Now, I’m thinking about thinking about it.”

The potential sale of the Bills is a perennial news story in the NFL because of the advanced age of the team’s owner, Ralph Wilson, who is 92.

And the Bills’ perennial response, repeated again after Gundlach’s comments, is that the team isn’t for sale.

Gundlachjeff Gundlach, 51, quickly scotched the idea that he’d just want to move the team to L.A. He told a Buffalo TV station, “One of these days, maybe five years from now -- I hope it’s 20 years from now -- the Bills will have to have an ownership change. And I think it would be a tragedy to have the Bills go to some random city and be called, you know, the L.A. Multitude or whatever the hell they’d call it. I want them to be the Buffalo Bills.”

Gundlach grew up in the Buffalo area and still has family there.

A spokesman for Gundlach said he wouldn’t comment further.

Gundlach was chief investment officer at L.A. money management giant TCW Group until December 2009, when the firm abruptly fired him, alleging that he was threatening to leave and take his bond-management team with him. Gundlach denies giving TCW an ultimatum, but once out of TCW he quickly set up DoubleLine Capital. Most of his TCW team members defected to join him.

TCW and DoubleLine now are embroiled in a vicious legal battle, with TCW accusing Gundlach of stealing the firm’s secrets. Gundlach denies the allegations and has countersued, accusing TCW of seeking to oust him to avoid having to share up to $1.25 billion in fees from assets he had managed. A trial is set for July.

DoubleLine has been a spectacular success, attracting more than $11 billion in assets from institutional and individual investors, as Gundlach’s flagship bond mutual fund has generated returns exceeding those of nearly all of its rivals.

Gundlach’s net worth isn’t known, but he earned tens of millions of dollars in his 24-year tenure at TCW.

-- Tom Petruno

Photo: Jeffrey Gundlach. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Online poker executive Bradley Franzen pleads not guilty

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Bradley Franzen, one of 11 executives charged in a crackdown against the three largest poker websites open to U.S. players, pleaded not guilty to related charges.

Franzen, 41, of Illinois, was released on $200,000 bail after turning himself in to the FBI in New York on Monday, according to the Associated Press.

The 11 people -- three of whom were the founders of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker --  were charged Friday with bank fraud, money laundering and violating gambling laws. The government also is seeking to recover $3 billion from the companies.

Franzen has been pegged as one in a group of highly paid "payment processors" who lied to banks about the nature of the financial transactions, the AP said, noting that the charges he faces could carry a sentence of 85 years in prison if he's convicted.

Federal prosecutors charged Franzen with nine counts, according to a Bloomberg report, alleging that he created fake companies and websites to disguise payments to the three poker companies and conspired to violate the Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. They also allege money laundering and conspiring to commit bank and wire fraud.

Franzen isn't the only one to deny taking part in illegal activities related to online poker.

On Friday, Full Tilt Poker defended itself and its chief executive, Raymond Bitar, saying online poker was "a game of skill enjoyed by millions of people" and despite the FBI's actions, it remained committed to preserving the rights of poker fans "to play the game they love online."

Full Tilt said it believes online poker is legal, saying its view was "a position also taken by some of the best legal minds in the United States."

RELATED:

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

twitter.com/nateog

Photo: Aaron Kanter plays multiple Web poker games simultaneously in a 2005 photo. After qualifying online, he won $2 million at a Las Vegas event. Credit: Steve Yeater / Associated Press

Video: Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers should be ratings gold for Fox

 

Entertainment business reporter Joe Flint explains why the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers--teams from small media markets--are still likely to make a lot of money for Super Bowl TV host Fox.

Read Joe's post on our sister blog, Company Town.

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In L.A., no one rules the NFL roots

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--Pat Benson

NFL tells Toyota to change advertisement

The NFL has called Toyota Motor Corp. for a personal foul.

The professional football league asked the automaker to remove a scene depicting a helmet-to-helmet collision from a commercial that explained how Toyota software used to evaluate car crashes is being
applied to football injuries. Football

“The overall tone and tenor of the spot was unfair,” said Brian McCarthy, an NFL spokesman.

The commercials have aired since November in two forms, said Zoe Zeigler, a Toyota spokeswoman.  Toyota places the edited version in NFL games and other NFL programming but continues to air the unedited version elsewhere.

The spot shows a mother driving a Toyota car and talking about how she worries for her son who plays football. The woman explains that Wake Forest University is using software developed by the automaker to evaluate injuries in car accidents to examine football collisions.

The commercial then explains that Toyota makes its technology available to solve problems outside of the automotive world under what the automaker calls the "Ideas for Good" initiative. It shows a variety of football scenes, none involving NFL or professional players. The unedited version can be seen here. 

“It is not at all unusual for us to work with advertisers that feature football in their ads. Companies recognize the value of an association with the NFL. Toyota is a sponsor of several of our clubs and a major advertiser in our sport,” McCarthy said.

He said the NFL did not like the way Toyota used the issue of sports-related concussions in an automobile advertisement. 

Concussions have become a source of controversy in the NFL.

“It is unfortunate that the NFL was not pleased with the commercial, but we are still happy to be doing this research,” Zeigler said.

Related auto news:

Truck sales point to better economy.

GM names first female product development chief.

Can Detroit automakers maintain momentum?

Jerry.Hirsch@latimes.com
twitter.com/LATimesJerry

Photo: UCLA football player lies on field after collision.

Credit: Los Angeles Times.

AEG lands MasterCard as sponsor of Beijing arena

MasterCard Worldwide has obtained naming rights for Beijing’s Wukesong Arena, the basketball venue for the 2008 Olympic Games, Los Angeles-based entertainment giant AEG said Wednesday.

Basketball It is the first 2008 Olympic Games venue to be rebranded commercially, AEG said, and the first arena in Beijing to be renamed in such a way.

The 18,000-seat arena in Beijing will be renamed the MasterCard Center or, in Chinese, Wanshida Zhongxin, in a five-year deal with the venue owners Bloomage International Investment Group and AEG. The price MasterCard paid to put its name on the arena was not disclosed.

AEG developed and operates Staples Center and L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles and is one of the largest sports and entertainment presenters in the world. It will act as a consultant to MasterCard Center in Beijing, where Cantonese pop singer Jacky Cheung will be first to perform in the renamed arena on Jan. 21.

-- Roger Vincent

Photo: Andrew Bogut of Australia after scoring against Russia in Wukesong Arena during the 2008 Olympics. Credit: John G. Mabanglo / European Pressphoto Agency

 

 

Video: Tuesday night football?

 

Will the NFL expand football to Tuesday nights after its big ratings success this week with the Minnesota Vikings and the Philadelphia Eagles? Business reporter Joe Flint weighs in.

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Tuesday night football delivers for NBC and may give NFL something to think about

--Pat Benson

 

 

 

Consumer Confidential: Amazon extends free shipping, Best Buy gets healthy

Here's your fists-of-fury Friday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

--Friday is Free Shipping Day on the Web (although, to be honest, it's pretty much been a free-shipping holiday season among desperate e-merchants). But just in case you still need some incentive to cyber-shop, our friends at Amazon.com are extending their free shipping to midnight Sunday -- and guaranteeing that your giftie arrives by Christmas. The free-shipping offer applies to many purchases of at least $25. Shoppers also can get free two-day shipping on many orders if they belong to Amazon's "Prime" program, which costs $79 a year. Shoppers using Amazon's standard shipping option have until Dec. 20 to buy gifts that will be delivered by Dec. 24.

--For its part, Best Buy doesn't want you to just be a sofa spud, watching TV and playing video games. The electronics giant says it's expanding its health and wellness offerings to 600 stores nationwide. The chain will sell products related to running, walking, swimming and yoga, including heart-rate monitoring watches, pedometers, headphones, yoga mats, scales and blood pressure monitors. Best Buy had been testing the offerings in 40 stores in some markets.

-- David Lazarus

 

 

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