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AT&T Courts Customers With Basketball Sweepstakes

Aiming to get more bang for its baskets in its long-standing sponsorship of the National Basketball Association, AT&T is running an in-bound sweepstakes program that ties in with the league's high-profile post-season play.

Fans are enticed to enter the AT&T $2 Million Shootout sweepstakes with a shot at two tickets to an NBA final-round game, including first-class, round-trip airfare, and a chance to win up to $2 million. Callers to 1-888-6Finals can also hear offers to become AT&T customers.

The telecommunications company, which allocates a hefty chunk of its estimated $433 million annual advertising dollars to event marketing, is using the promotion to gauge the benefits of sponsorship to its bottom line.

“We have refocused all of our sponsorships to drive business results,” said Michael Murphy, AT&T's sponsorship and promotion director. “This is our biggest undertaking to date.”

AT&T, Basking Ridge, NJ, is supporting the promotion with ads on network television, in print and in arenas.

The spots are running on sports-related programs on NBC, TNT and ESPN as well as on local cable channels in markets including Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. Print ads are running in The New York Times, USA Today and ESPN Magazine.

One ad promotes the contest with “One Call. Five Shots. $2 Million Dollars.”

“We're also doing courtside signage in 10 different cities,” Murphy said. “Normally we would have the AT&T globe, but we reverted to a 1-888-6 Finals banner to promote the sweepstakes. This is really an integrated media campaign, which makes it very efficient.”

More than 500,000 entrants are expected.

Besides a trip to an NBA final-round game, the grand prize winner is entered in the AT&T $2 Million Shootout. At the game, he or she will have 15 seconds to shoot five, three-point baskets. Sinking all five shots nets a $2 million cash prize; otherwise, the participant wins $250,000 per basket or $25,000 just for trying.

Callers to the toll-free hotline are greeted by a recording of a play-by-play account of a last-second score of an actual basketball game. This segues to a recorded host operator providing his own play-by-play on how to enter.

The automated call-in system is based on touch-tone entries that are confirmed by pressing either the No. 1 or the No. 2. Entrants are required to input their phone number, birthday by month and date, and whether or not the phone service is in the caller's name.

A recognition device allows callers to enter only once. Additionally, the system provides AT&T with real-time database building opportunities. While the company would not disclose the number of call centers impacted by the promotion, the promotion does provide an exit to a live operator at any point.

“It's got a pretty intricate call pattern in which we are creating a database in real time in order to segment customers based on call patterns, long distance calling and usage,” Murphy said. “Callers are routed based on how they answer the profiling questions.” Profiling questions include the use of home computers and CD-ROMs. “If you enter a fake number or try to enter more than once you are routed to an exit message.”

After callers enter the sweepstakes, they are given the option to hear AT&T offers. Existing AT&T customers receive a 50 percent discount on direct dial, interstate calls to states with playoff teams. The rates will apply for calls made during the playoffs and finals, which kick off April 23 and run through June 17.

A live operator provides calling discount rates and the opportunity to switch long distance carriers. But those options are not a prerequisite for entry.

“We've been able to integrate many facets of AT&T services into this. Whether for competitive customers or for AT&T customers, there is great value to be gained from this. We certainly address great value because it is an awesome opportunity for half-price weekend calling and for the chance to go the finals. We can offer something for everyone with this,” Murphy said.

Murphy said AT&T had tested the sweepstakes concept in late 1997 as part of a sponsorship with VH-1 for the music video network's Artists of the Year event.

“That was a very controlled, smaller atmosphere, and we were able to implement a low-risk test.” The test garnered more than 700,000 calls, according to Murphy.

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