FILA FIRES UP FOR STACKHOUSE;BASKETBALL SHOE WILL GET $15 MIL PUSH AS COMPANY AIMS TO REPEAT HILL'S ROOKIE LUCK

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Fila USA, now third in athletic footwear on the legs of NBA phenom Grant Hill, is pinning its '96 hopes on rookie star Jerry Stackhouse.

The marketer is readying a $15 million-plus marketing assault in March to push the player's signature basketball shoe, the Stack Mid, hitting stores that month.

The campaign from FCB/Leber Katz Partners, New York, includes a big-budget, special effects-laden spot sporting the tagline, "The first step."

HOT WITH HILL

Hopes for the shoe are high among retailers, given Fila's success last year with the Hill, endorsed by the '94-95 NBA Rookie of the Year. Mr. Stackhouse, a Philadelphia 76ers' guard, is a leading candidate for that honor this year.

Trend-setting designs and clever marketing had already made Fila a hot brand, but the Hill-one of the best-selling basketball shoes ever-helped pump up 1995 sales 30.7% to $510 million, according to industry estimates.

TRAILING THE TOP TWO

Fila's 5.1% market share lands the company just ahead of Adidas America (5%) but leaves it a distant third to Nike (37%) and Reebok International (20.5%). But its strength in basketball and aggressive sports marketing efforts have caught rivals' attention.

"We definitely have our eye on Fila, maybe more so than anyone else when it comes to basketball," said a Nike marketing executive. "We can't underestimate them."

The upcoming spot for the $79.99 Stack Mid begins with Mr. Stackhouse preparing to drive on an opponent, then flashes back to 1975, with the infant Jerry preparing to take his first step. After Baby Stackhouse joins a pickup game and dunks the ball by springing off the oversize afro of a bewildered competitor, the spot cuts back to the present with the rookie noting, "Time does fly."

WINNING WAYS

Mr. Stackhouse is also attracting attention as the leading vote-getter so far in balloting for the Schick Rookie Game. His other endorsement deals are with Pepsi-Cola Co.'s Mountain Dew and Fleer trading cards.

The media schedule for the Fila campaign includes sizable spot buys on CBS' NCAA basketball games, Fox prime time and MTV: Music Television. Print ads will run in The Source, Sports Illustrated and Vibe.

The remainder of Fila's $48 million marketing budget-up 25% from last year-will mostly support back-to-school products endorsed by NBA star Jamal Mashburn and the holiday introduction of the Hill 2.

"I can't outspend Nike and Reebok, but we can try to out-advertise them creatively. That's easier said than done, but we've been successful so far," said Howe Burch, Fila's VP-advertising and communications.

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