FOOTWEAR POWERS WRESTLING WITH OLYMPIC AD RULES;NIKE, REEBOK, FILA WILL TROT OUT THEIR ATHLETES FOR COMMERCIALS DURING GAMES

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A dilemma of Olympic proportions may be looming for the three powers in athletic footwear, as Nike, Reebok International, and Fila USA are preparing marketing efforts timed to the Summer Games that may violate rules.

In addition to advertising, Fila and Nike are planning their first Web sites just before or during the Olympics, and all three marketers intend to use the Internet to tout their athletes. So this industry will put Olympics athlete endorsement rules to a strenuous and unprecedented test.

FILA'S FIRST IMAGE AD

Fila plans to launch its first corporate image spot July 1, part of a $16 million summer marketing blitz. The commercial from FCB/Leber Katz Partners, New York, is planned for airing on BET, ESPN, MTV: Music Television and other cable outlets during July and beyond.

The spot showcases athletes who will wear Fila footwear during the Olympics, including the Dream Team's Grant Hill, long-jump record-holder Mike Powell, and volleyball star Kent Steffes.

While the spot makes no visual allusion to the Games, Fila wants to launch it with the tagline "Have fun in Atlanta." The tag will change after the Olympics.

According to the current Olympic charter, no marketer-not even an Olympic sponsor-may use the name or image of an Olympic athlete in ads during the Games, unless that athlete receives written permission.

And even then, the marketing communication must not refer to the athlete's participation in the Games. Failure to comply could mean suspension from competition for the athlete.

In late July, Fila will roll out another spot starring Mr. Powell. This commercial has the athlete long-jumping a 1996 Ferrari M-12 in a desert.

`RULE IS NEWS TO ME'

The Olympic rule "is news to me," said Howe Burch, Fila's director of advertising and communications. "But we would like to comply with guidelines. Obviously, we will not jeopardize our athletes' eligibility."

A spokesman for Nike said the athletes in its planned advertising have received permission, but he wouldn't comment on the creative content of the commercials.

Reebok's estimated $30 million Olympic-themed push will begin later this month, with spots from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, following NFL star Emmitt Smith's quest to make football an official Olympic sport. Reebok will air these spots during NBC's broadcast of the Olympics.

Reebok paid $20 million for Olympic exclusivity in the athletic footwear category. It is the official footwear licensee and supplier of the Games, but its rights do not cover performance footwear like basketball shoes.

The pool of commercials also will feature Olympic athletes, including Dream Team center Shaquille O'Neal, though the NBA star won't appear as himself but as the genie he portrays in the Walt Disney Co. film "Kazaam," which opens July 17.

GENIE IN BASKETBALL SHOES

However, Shaq/genie will be wearing a new Reebok basketball shoe in the spot that Mr. O'Neal will also wear in Olympic competition.

Reebok has two other spots in production, one featuring U.S. athlete Mark Crear training for 110-meter high hurdles, and the other featuring four members of the South African team. Their airing hinges on whether those athletes qualify for the Games.

A Reebok spokesman said the company wouldn't put its athletes in jeopardy, but executives weren't able to comment by press time whether their athletes had received waivers or needed them.

The planned Nike effort is a relaunch of its Air cushioning technology. The $35 million effort from Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., breaks early next month and runs through August.

FILMING 18 NIKE SPOTS

Wieden is currently filming 18 executions, most of them featuring Olympic athletes.

A spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee said the organization intends to aggressively enforce the rules (see related story, Page 48). However, he refused comment on which athletes have obtained exemptions.

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