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NBA lockout not all bad for Net

Thanks in part to the recently ended lockout, NBA.com will debut its 1999 playing schedule online.

    Thanks in part to the recently ended lockout, NBA.com will debut its 1999 playing schedule on the Web today, in a move executives are calling the first of its kind for a professional sports league.

    "The best way to get [the schedule] out to everyone who needs it and to our fans is to put it on the Web," said Stefanie Scheer, National Basketball Association director of Internet services.

    The NBA will employ the Net directly to publicize its abbreviated 50-game schedule. The online medium is being counted on both to spread information as quickly as possible and to win back disgruntled fans, Scheer noted.

    The schedule is set to be released at 2 p.m. PT on NBA.com, the NBA said in a statement. The move reflects the league's madcap rush to get under way since the lockout ended earlier this month.

    Upon the master schedule's release, the site will offer customizable schedules by week or month and regular-season TV broadcast schedules for the league's broadcast partners, which include NBC, TNT, and TBS, as well as Canada's CTV and TSN. Local broadcast schedules will be added in about a week, Scheer said.

    NBA.com also will offer printable "pocket" calendars for each of the league's 29 teams, which users will be able to download, print, and fold to wallet size. Normally, NBA franchises would produce their own glossy pocket schedules, Scheer said, but given the time crunch, the online medium is a good distribution option.

    "As soon as we did it, we thought, 'This is great.' We're going to keep this as a feature," she said of posting the schedule online.

    The move is "definitely a part of the NBA's effort to reach out to fans," she added, calling it a "good start."

    Another benefit of using the Web to publicize the league's schedule is the online medium's ability to reach overseas, according to ESPN Internet Ventures spokesman Eric Handler. "More than any other site, NBA.com has a significant percentage of overseas usage. It makes sense given the number of overseas players," Handler said.

    The NBA produces NBA.com in conjunction with Starwave, an Infoseek subsidiary that is partly owned by Walt Disney's online arm. NBA.com is promoted via Disney's Go Network, which also includes ESPN.com, NFL.com, and other high-profile sports sites. Now in its fourth year, NBA.com relaunched on Tuesday, notably adding historical content and streaming video, Scheer said.

    Also today, commissioner David Stern and union president Patrick Ewing signed a nearly 300-page collective bargaining agreement, marking the official end of the lockout, and teams launched into making trades and free-agent signings.

    After a four-month suspension, the NBA will begin open regular-season play on February 5, with each team scheduled to play 50 games. Normally, the NBA undertakes an 82-game program.