EVENTS & PROMOTIONS;COURTING WOMEN;NBA, SPONSORS MULL NEXT MOVE AFTER SUCCESSFUL RUN OF USA TEAM

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The national Basketball Association, having taken a leadership role in the development of women's basketball with its marketing of the 1996 USA Basketball team, will consider its next move this week.

When NBA owners meet in New York, Commissioner David Stern will present an assessment of the job NBA Properties has done, and outline business opportunities in women's basketball.

"Our support for developing women's basketball at the elite level is consistent with our philosophy of growing the sport of basketball in general; what's good for basketball is good for us and our business partners," said Val Ackerman, the NBA's VP-business affairs.

The NBA won't comment on specific proposals, but it denies reports of a partnership being formed with Nike for a professional women's league.

INCREASING POPULARITY

More women are playing basketball than ever before, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association. Its most recent report has 13.5 million women playing the game at least once in 1994, up 7% from '93. Ratings of women's college basketball are also up, say CBS and ESPN.

Led by Nike endorser Sheryl Swoopes and Reebok International rep Rebecca Lobo, this USA dream team is not only charged with winning Olympic gold but laying the groundwork for a new era of women's basketball. It has played, and won, 39 games against college and international teams.

Broadcasts are mostly supported by the team's sponsors and marketing partners, led by Champion Products and Nike, followed by Kraft Foods; Lifetime; Sears, Roebuck & Co.; State Farm; Tambrands; and Topps Co. Together, they will spend $15 million in marketing and media to support.

Sears has leveraged its sponsorship with radio spots, promotions and sweepstakes in markets where the team plays. Last week, it launched a national TV spot trumpeting the team from Young & Rubicam, New York.

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