Although Nike staged the first-ever such competition, the usually omnipresent swoosh kept a low profile. The presenting sponsor was not Nike but mobile phone marketer Ericsson Corp. Nike was a supporting sponsor, along with Pepsi-Cola Co. and Mercedes-Benz of North America.
The championships were staged by Nike Sports & Entertainment, the event marketing division of the world's No. 1 athletic footwear and apparel company. NSE has ambitions to be more than an in-house organ for Nike. It wants to be a global player in event marketing, on par with International Management Group.
22 EVENTS THIS YEAR
The beach volleyball competition was just one of 22 events that NSE is staging this year in various markets around the world, but it was the first in which Nike was not the presenting sponsor. NSE's eventual goal is to have Nike as main sponsor for only half its events.
That would be quite a turnabout for a corporate giant that has earned a rep for being prickly and self-serving, the scourge of sports leagues, and a selfish and unbending marketing partner.
But NSE's goal, rather than being interested solely in spotlighting the swoosh, is to showcase Nike's athlete endorsers, including Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley, and the teams it sponsors, like Brazil's national soccer team.
It was Brazilians who dominated the 1997 Beach Volleyball World Championships, which brought together the Association of Volleyball Professionals and International Federation of Beach Volleyball. Brazil's two-person men's team and women's team won their respective championships at the competition, held at the University of California at Los Angeles Tennis Center Sept. 10 to 13, and broadcast on NBC the weekend of Sept. 13 to 14.
As he sat in a skybox overlooking a tennis court filled with sand, NSE Managing Director Ian Campbell said this event was proof that the swoosh is ready to play ball by different rules.
"We've produced several events over the past year, but they've been Nike events. This is a coming out of sorts," said Mr. Campbell, whose Nike unit launched in 1996. "We want to dispel the notion that we are a bad partner, that we think we're too good to work with people."
It was NSE Director of TV and Media Tom Feuer who conceived of the world beach volleyball championships and played diplomat between the two bickering volleyball associations.
MEDIA, MARKETING CLOUT
Sports organizations talk to Nike because of the company's media and marketing clout. The hope that Nike would become more involved in volleyball was a factor in attracting the Association of Volleyball Professionals and International Federation of Beach Volleyball.
Mr. Campbell said discussions to that end have taken place, with one proposal calling for a new Nike-sponsored U.S. tour of male and female pros; NSE would stage.
NSE plans to grow significantly over the next two years by expanding its sponsor services department and adding international offices in Europe, Japan and South Africa, Mr. Campbell said.
NSE also will add to its TV production, programming and sales staff. TV has been a venue for all NSE events so far.
EVEN MIX OF EVENTS
NSE plans to produce an even mix of events that promote Nike and events like the Beach Volleyball World Championships over the next two years. In November, NSE will stage a Nike-centric golf event in Japan built around Tiger Woods. In February, Nike will again leave center stage in an NSE-created track and field meet in Australia. A tennis tournament called the Nike Cup is on the drawing board, as are some U.S.-based basketball events.
Mr. Campbell said these events will require the marketing dollars of other sponsors and NSE must prove it can offer them value, and that they won't be overshadowed by a swoosh.
At the beach volleyball championships, the emcee more than repeated presenting sponsor Ericsson's name time and again-he never flagged in giving Ericsson and its tagline, "The power of voice," a crisp, dramatic zing.
During a break in the action, Ericsson offered $1 million to a guy selected via a sweepstakes if he could serve the ball into a target. (He missed.) Dangling at the sides of the net were two gleaming Mercedes-Benz logos. Rotating signs on the sidelines flashed messages from all sponsors including Nike, but the swoosh didn't dominate.
"Nike isn't trying to promote Nike with this event," said an Ericsson spokesman. "Nike wants to be known for creating very entertaining, well-attended events,