By  on February 20, 2008

Since its genesis in 2006, cable TV's SportsNet New York has aimed to broadcast high school sports. So why would the regional sports channel look to a fashion, film and music marketing agency like Cornerstone Promotions to help get its first such effort off the ground in only four months?

Street cred. Cornerstone, a media enterprise also encompassing Fader Films, went live online in January with BornReady.tv, which relates via weekly Webisodes the exploits of Abraham Lincoln High School's Lance Stephenson, one of the country's top scholastic basketball players. Lincoln was one of four New York City teams, along with John F. Kennedy, Benjamin N. Cardozo and Frederick Douglass, that competed in the inaugural SNY Invitational tournament, held Feb. 1 to 2 at New York University's Coles Sports Center and hatched in October. Defending New York state and city champion Lincoln went on to take home the winner's trophy — and one of the $1,000 checks donated by SNY and Time Warner Cable of New York City to each of the teams that competed.

"We felt [Cornerstone] had a good handle on the fan base, the kids who go to high school, the players," said Gary Morgenstern, SNY's vice president of programming. "They knew how to get out and spread the word through the neighborhoods, with a campaign in local stores like Sneakertown, in viral ads and in gaming online.

"Our campaigns are usually based on billboards and full-page ads in newspapers," Morgenstern added of SNY's efforts to market its telecasts of games played by the New York Mets and New York Jets. SNY expected a different audience from a pro sports audience to attend the tournament. Different, Morgenstern said, in where the audience hangs out, what they watch and what they read.

"The tournament is about New York, and we wanted it to feel a lot about New York," said Rob Stone, founder and co-president of Cornerstone Promotions. "We tied in with retailers near the schools to make sure people knew about the games."

Cornerstone — which counts Diesel, Levi Strauss, Puma and New Era as clients — enlisted 21 venues in four of New York's boroughs, where each of the competitors in the SNY Invitational are based, to promote the event. It focused the outreach on independent apparel and footwear shops, which displayed promotional posters in their windows and gave away BornReady postcards. They included Harlem Underground, Atmos and House of Hoops, in Manhattan; V.I.M., Dapper Dave's, Planet Brooklyn and Sneakertown in Brooklyn; Dr. Jay's, V.I.M., Jimmy Jazz and Always Laced in the Bronx, and Dr. Jay's, Jamaica Hatland and Foot Locker in Queens.A Cornerstone-produced video clip spread virally to about 50 Web sites, Stone said, such as YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, NYC Hoops and Hip Hop Game, hyping the basketball tournament with images of the four teams and their fans, playing, posing and projecting victory to the strains of Heltah Skeltah feat's "Getcha Team." Elsewhere online, sneaker culture e-zine Kix and the City mounted a contest for a prize pack containing a $150 Nike ID gift card, a pair of New Jersey Nets tickets, Rucker tournament gear and a pair of tickets to the SNY Invitational. Kix and the City was one of about a dozen Web sites that posted gaming tie-ins.

Approximately 3,000 people attended the basketball games and another 18,000 households tuned in to the three contests that were televised, Cornerstone spokeswoman Rebecca Silverstein said, citing figures from SNY. One of those in attendance, Lance Stephenson Sr., a former small forward at Brooklyn's Lafayette H.S., said he gave the nod to BornReady.tv's daily eye on his family because "I back what my son is doing in basketball and wanted to show the people." The Web cameras roll about six hours a day (and night), in and around the family's Coney Island home, as well as on court, Stephenson related, adding that he doesn't find them intrusive. "It's not like this," he mugged as if a camera were in his face (though the elder Stephenson does get a lot of screen time in the 13 Webisodes posted since January).

Seeing the younger Stephenson, now a junior guard at Lincoln, become MVP of the 2007 EBC Rucker Basketball Pro-Am championship game, which featured five NBA players — and being given the nickname Born Ready — inspired documentary filmmaker Paul Rivera, himself a former basketball pro in Puerto Rico, to start telling Stephenson's story. "Lance's father told me there's no manual on raising a superstar," recalled Rivera, president of Born & Bred Films, describing the sensibility of the reality project idea he brought to Stone. BornReady.tv will post a new Webisode each Tuesday, through March.

Joining presenting sponsor Time Warner Cable in backing the SNY Invitational were Spalding, the New York Daily News, McDonald's and the U.S. Marine Corps, which flew banners in Coles Sports Center and ran TV spots during the games. Rucker basketball clothing giveaways included Rucker T-shirts, hats and basketballs, and Nets Basketball staged a Nets tickets raffle and a contest for a Vince Carter, New Jersey Nets jersey, autographed by the NBA all-star and displayed at the NYU sports complex prior to the final game."This is another platform for us to be out in the community and give people a taste of Nets basketball," said Barry Baum, vice president of business and entertainment at Nets Basketball.

Following the championship contest between Lincoln and Cardozo, SNY and Time Warner Cable gave the New York Public School Athletic League a gift of $15,000.

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