NBA DEEPENS YOUTH EFFORT WITH BOOK DEAL:PUBLISHER SCHOLASTIC BUILDS SPORTS FRANCHISE; NFL PACT IN THE WORKS

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The National Basketball Association, looking to keep a firm grasp on young fans, has struck a publishing alliance with Scholastic, the nation's leading publisher of educational materials for kids.

Scholastic wants to build a sports franchise and is also working with the National Football League on several projects for the league's "Play Football" youth-marketing initiative, including a line of fiction titles that will arrive this fall.

By partnering first with the NBA, Scholastic is aligning itself with the sports league that has the edge in youth appeal.

24 BOOKS PLANNED YEARLY

Scholastic and the NBA plan to publish 24 books a year targeting 3-to-16-year-olds. The first titles arrive in November and will cover basketball skills, teams and stars.

Terms of the deal weren't disclosed, but Scholastic is paying the NBA a royalty based on the number of books sold. Scholastic hopes to sell 500,000 to 1 million books within the first two years of the three-year deal through three distribution channels: book stores and school book clubs and book fairs. Scholastic is not becoming a sponsor or licensee of the NBA.

IN-STORE DISPLAYS PLANNED

Scholastic will create in-store displays for the line and promote the books through marketing materials distributed to kids at school. The NBA-Scholastic relationship will also extend to a variety of literacy projects.

For the NBA, the deal is just the beginning of a larger push into publishing; the league is negotiating with three publishers to create a co-branded line of books targeting adults.

"We have a $3 billion licensed product business, but publishing

has historically accounted for a minuscule portion," said David Schreff, president of the Marketing & Media Group at NBA Properties. "We think it's because we've never taken a product line approach to publishing. In the

past, we've done a book here and there with a select author or publisher."

Scholastic, which last year saw sales jump 21.6% to $516 million, sees the sports deals as a way to maintain growth and further its mission to promote literacy.

"Clearly, most children like sports, especially basketball, but many of them may not be among our readers. So we thought, `Let's marry these two interests,'*" said Scholastic Exec VP-Publisher Barbara Marcus.

Mr. Schreff said the league also believes the books will help paint its players as good role models for young fans at a time when many sports stars' images are tarnished.

`MEET' ... BULLS, MAGIC

The first two books, "Meet the Chicago Bulls" and "Meet the Orlando Magic," will sell for $4.99 each and begin a series of team-based titles.

They will be followed by an "NBA Skills Books" line that will use basketball themes, stars and statistics to teach a variety of subjects to younger children. Planned for next year are books about slam-dunk champions and a series of player biographies.

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