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DRAWN TO JORDAN DRAMA ADVERTISERS BASK IN GLOW OF RUMORED RETURN TO HOOPS

By Published on .

The will-he-or-won't-he drama Michael Jordan is producing for the sports world is charging the Air with opportunity for his sponsors.

As Jordanmania escalated last week, fueled by the abandonment of his baseball aspirations and reports of his renewed hoop dreams, Quaker Oats Co.'s Gatorade and McDonald's Corp. were putting the final touches on existing Jordan ad plans, and rushing to get them on air.

Gatorade, readying an ad campaign for April from Bayer Bess Vanderwarker, Chicago, opted instead to break 30- and 60-second versions of a new Jordan spot yesterday on NBC. From acclaimed filmmaker Ridley Scott, the commercials aired during an NBA game.

In the spots, Mr. Jordan treks through the Himalayas, heeding the voice of a mysterious master. The displaced Chicago sports legend finds his guru in a shack and asks for the secret of life. The answer: "Life is a sport: Drink it up," Gatorade's new ad slogan.

"That's what I figured," cracks Mr. Jordan.

"We've escalated the launch a bit," said a Gatorade spokeswoman, noting the campaign's other, non-Jordan spots will still hit in April. "It's topical and there's definitely an opportunity."

Gatorade's hustle adds to a March already hopping with Jordan marketing. On March 20, McDonald's will launch a monthlong promotion in the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean tied to its global sponsorship of the NBA and licensing arrangement with Warner Bros.' Looney Tunes characters.

McDonald's will offer collectible cups that team basketball stars Mr. Jordan, Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Larry Johnson and Reggie Miller with characters like Bugs Bunny, Sylvester the Cat and Road Runner. Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, created the supporting TV spots, with assistance from Warner Bros. Animation.

The man who commanded $32 million a year in endorsements when he left the Chicago Bulls in October 1993 was back practicing with the team last week, and working hard for someone with no plans of returning to the game.

Advertising Age's Star Presenter of 1993 said good-bye to his dreams of making a big league baseball team late last week because of the long-running standoff between baseball's owners and the players union.

That decision brings unintended irony to his latest Nike spot from director Spike Lee, the first to use the athlete as a baseball player. That commercial began running two weeks ago, but Nike responded to ensuing events by pulling it late last week.

As the media foraged for clues to Mr. Jordan's plans, it was reported that Nike had sent him 40 pairs of new basketball sneakers last week. The marketer responded that such a shipment wasn't unusual, regardless of whether or not Mr. Jordan planned to return to the court.

However, Nike Director of Advertising Joe McCarthy said: "Obviously, there would be an opportunity for us if he makes a move back to basketball, but we haven't given it much thought because we thought he was pretty much a baseball player.

"We're still discussing new basketball creative for the spring, so if he comes back, sure, we'd consider including him. But let's wait and see what happens."

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