Sport heads to CBS, Versus

Nascent sport SlamBall is getting a big push from its owners IMG Sports Media and Tollin Prods.

CBS has inked a deal to telecast the action sport’s championship title game in November. And sports cabler Versus will carry eight SlamBall games on Sundays starting Aug. 31.

IMG and Tollin also plan to roll out a full-fledged SlamBall league in 2009 across eight U.S. cities.

Hyped as the first-ever “team action sport,” SlamBall mixes elements from basketball, football, hockey, soccer and gymnastics. Former Philadelphia 76ers president and part owner Pat Croce serves as SlamBall’s commissioner.

The Eye will broadcast the final match of the “2008 SlamBall Championship Series” at 5 p.m. Nov. 2 — right after the day’s NFL coverage concludes.

“The goal is to bring SlamBall back into the consciousness and create a showcase for the sport that will be a forerunner for the first league setup in 2009,” principal Mike Tollin said.

For this year’s shortened season, six teams — the Bouncers, Mob, Rumble, Hombres, Maulers and Slashers — will compete, led by coaches including John Starks, Kenny Anderson and Raghib “Rocket” Ismail.

Players were trained in June at IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla.

In 2009, SlamBall plans to spread eight franchises out in cities across the country. The league will operate under a centralized office and will control four of the teams, with four more teams sold to local owner-operators. Tollin said SlamBall was in active discussions with more than a dozen potential team owners.

The 2009 season is set to launch during the July 4 weekend, soon after the NBA Finals, and will wind up with a September championship tourney.

IMG and Tollin are also in discussions with TV partners for next year, as well as corporate sponsors. SlamBall hopes to announce its 2009 broadcast and cable partners by the end of the year.

“We’re in discussions with all the major networks,” Tollin said. “We’re a very attractive demo; we reach a younger demo with an appetite for sports.”

IMG and Tollin face a steep challenge in attempting to launch a sports league, given past failures by similarly deep-pocketed startups. NBC and WWE, for example, were behind the football-with-attitude XFL league, which threw in the towel after one season. Other attempted sports leagues, such as the USFL, met similar fates.

SlamBall was created by Mason Gordon, who brought the idea to Tollin earlier this decade. The original SlamBall competish aired on Spike TV in 2002 and 2003, with Warner Bros. TV (where Tollin held an overall deal) onboard as well. But SlamBall went into hibernation after that.

Former IMG Global Media topper Chris Albrecht was instrumental in putting together IMG’s new joint venture with SlamBall and Tollin, struck earlier this year. Tollin said plans for SlamBall haven’t been impacted by Albrecht’s recent departure from IMG.

“We’re carrying on as we had been doing,” Tollin said. “(IMG) has totally affirmed its commitment to the sport and continues to bring resources to bear in support of SlamBall.”

For example, IMG is looking to break SlamBall into China, where it already harbors a joint venture with broadcaster CCTV.

“There are 450 million rabid basketball fans over there, and an opportunity to do a demonstration and eventually a touring component and a league,” he said.

Back in the U.S., Tollin said he’s modeling SlamBall’s rollout on the rise of skateboard culture.

“It’s critical for us in terms of establishing credibility and the reach of the sport to get that grassroots following,” he said. “It’s really about setting up courts in various regions of the country and allowing kids and high schoolers to play the sport.”

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