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L.A. Lakers Broadcast In Korean To Draw New Fans


There are a dozen NBA teams that broadcast in Spanish, but now the Los Angeles Lakers have become the first to broadcast every game in Korean. The goal is to draw new fans from the estimated 300,000 Koreans who live in greater-L.A., the area's largest minority group behind Hispanics.

Ben Bergman of member station KPCC met with the Lakers' new broadcasters.

BEN BERGMAN, BYLINE: When Paul Lee was named the Lakers first Korean-language color commentator this season, his friends all wanted to know one thing.

PAUL LEE: When people hear about, like, you know, I get to the do the broadcast, you know, the Lakers broadcasts, they get all excited. Oh, can you take me with you?

BERGMAN: The answer was no. Lee couldn't take his friends to Lakers games because he doesn't go to the games. Lee and his play-by-play man Young Don Lee call the action watching a TV smaller than many of us have at home.

LEE: (Foreign language spoken)

YOUNG DON LEE: (Foreign language spoken)

BERGMAN: They're deep inside the spacious headquarters for the Lakers' new 24-hour English and Spanish cable channels, Time Warner SportsNet and Deportes. The cable company made a huge bet on the Lakers last year, forking over an estimated $3 billion to win TV rights for the next two decades. Inside the channels' gleaming new home, there are facilities befitting such an investment - state-of-the-art control rooms and studios.

But the Korean broadcasters call the action from a storage closet, where lights and cameras are kept. It's a long ways from courtside.

LEE: (Foreign language spoken)

BERGMAN: Storeroom or not, Lee is thrilled to be here. He was born and raised in Seoul until his family moved to L.A. when he was 13. Lee fell in love with American sports, and he especially enjoyed the play-by-play, which was nothing like the more subdued style he was used to hearing in Korea.

LEE: I'm a big fan of American broadcasting, like, you know, storytelling of Vin Scully and the excitement of John Madden, and things like that. I'm excited about the opportunity to, you know, convey that to the Korean audience.

BERGMAN: Lee is the rare color commentator who never played the game. He says he learned the ins and outs of the NBA as a diehard fantasy player. He's also been a sportswriter for 17 years at The Korea Times of L.A., the country's largest Korean-language paper.

Given the area's growing Korean population, Time Warner SportsNet general manager Mark Shuken says the Lakers had long wanted to do a Korean broadcast.

MARK SHUKEN: We had the Korean community really speak up about the Lakers. Simultaneously, we had conversations with the Lakers, and they were actually thrilled by it.

BERGMAN: It became much easier technically to broadcast in Korean this season. That's because the audio channel that had been used for Spanish opened up after Time Warner launched Deportes, the country's first 24-hour Spanish-language regional sports network. Shuken says Korean Laker fans could one day get a network of their own, too, via digital distribution.

SHUKEN: Once we can figure out the economics and the protection of the rights holder and the content provider, you could hypothetically see a Laker game that has 10 different languages supporting it all available through a digital stream.

BERGMAN: For now, Shuken says he is focused on trying to avoid the mistake he's seen other media companies make. That's only changing the language, without being sensitive to cultural differences.

SHUKEN: We always have to ask the fans in the community what they want and then deliver it, as opposed to telling them why they like that which we bring.

BERGMAN: So far, the biggest complaint from the Korean community has been how the announcers say the players' names. For example, should Paul Lee use the English or the Korean pronunciation for star forward Metta World Peace?

LEE: You know, am I supposed to say (Foreign language spoken), or, you know, Metta World Peace? And they're going to say - some people might say, that guy is showing off. You know, then I use chopped-off Korean-English, and then they'll say, oh, gee. He speaks, like, broken English. You know? Can't they get somebody who speaks English better, you know, kind of thing? So what do I do? Where do I find the balance here, you know?


BERGMAN: For the time being, Lee is saying it both ways. You can't please everyone, but at least he'll be moving out of the storage closet soon. He still won't be in the press box at the games, but Time Warner is building the Korean broadcasters a proper sound booth.

For NPR News, I'm Ben Bergman, in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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