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USA Networks, NBA to unveil marketing alliance

In an announcement to be made tomorrow, the duo will describe a plan to sell NBA merchandise and tickets via USA Networks' many e-commerce properties.

USA Networks and the National Basketball Association are expected to announce a wide-ranging cross-marketing relationship tomorrow, an agreement that adds to the media company's growing online portfolio.

The NBA, whose sporting contests reach virtually every corner of the globe, will sell merchandise and tickets via USA Networks' many e-commerce properties, according to people familiar with the deal. This includes selling game tickets through USA Networks' Ticketmaster Online-CitySearch, according to one of these people.

The partnership, which also involves USA Networks' offline properties, will be a "broad media, e-commerce and service partnership" between the two companies, one source said under the condition of anonymity.

USA Networks head Barry Diller and NBA commissioner David Stern will unveil the agreement tomorrow at a press conference at 10 a.m. EST in New York. An NBA representative declined comment. USA Networks couldn't be reached.

The partnership continues USA Networks' effort to beef up its online retail assets. The company recently acquired Styleclick, which helps manufacturers set up Web storefronts. With the acquisition, USA Networks will merge the company with Internet Shopping Network, which runs shopping services including FirstAuction.com and FirstJewelry.com.

"We're going to continue to see offline and online (interests) converge, whether it be basketball or movie tickets," according to Zona Research analyst Clay Ryder. "The Web becomes another medium to target customers."

Weeks before the Styleclick deal, USA Networks acquired Precision Response for about $657.8 million in stock to boost customer service to its e-commerce companies.

USA Networks also has formed a separate e-commerce-focused company called USA Electronic Commerce and Services. The company will combine call centers, customer service operations and packing operations from USA Networks' Home Shopping Network, Ticketmaster and Ticketmaster Online-CitySearch to provide "back office" services to e-commerce companies.

Up to now, the NBA has remained relatively quiet in terms of outlining a Web strategy--by contrast with its stupendous broadcast distribution--though commissioner Stern is known to harbor big plans. NBA games are seen in more than 200 countries, according to the league, making an effective Net strategy all the more worthwhile.

NBA.com, overseen by Disney's Go Network, already is consistently among the Net's 10 most-popular sport sites.

Bloomberg contributed to this report.