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NBA DEFENDS LICENSED APPAREL NICHE

By Published on .

In a strategic marketing shift, the National Basketball Association will tailor its 1996-97 "I love this stuff" advertising to support its softening apparel business.

The new round of ads, created by Fallon McElligott Berlin, New York, will launch on Nov. 1 and will include the NBA's first "I love this stuff" print work. Media support could reach $10 million.

PROMOTING APPAREL, NOT BRAND

Advertising will promote apparel instead of the NBA brand of consumer products. The ads introduce a new tagline, "The game doesn't end."

Sales of NBA licensed products grew 7.1% to $3 billion in 1994-95 from the previous season, but are believed to have been flat for 1995-96. The apparel business remains a strong performer, especially in the authentics category-the stuff that the pros wear on the court.

Many retailers have reported recently that sales have been slowing since fall of '95, even in jerseys, the NBA's strongest apparel category.

The goal of the campaign is to extend a feeling of authenticity to those products that aren't worn on the court, like hats and jackets. Creative has a documentary-style feel. Gary Payton of the Seattle SuperSonics and Hakeem Olajuwon of the Houston Rockets will appear in national print and TV advertising. Regional and city-specific ads will feature a player from that market's NBA team.

BRINGING THE FAN CLOSER

"The ads reinforce the entire concept of bringing the fan closer to the game," said Bill Marshall, VP-general manager, NBA Properties consumer products group. "We're now not only going to focus on the products used in the game, but carry that image into our lifestyle products."

For example, a print ad targeting the Chicago area has Bulls guard Steve Kerr wearing a Bulls jacket and cap while chatting with reporters before a game.

"The new campaign is very much as a continuation of NBA brand management, but it's also definitely a piece of new thinking," said Andy Berlin, chairman of FMB. "It began as a challenge from the league's licensees and retailers that we need to take the lead among leagues in authenticity."

Licensees highlighted in the ads include Champion, Lee Sport, Logo Athletic, Pro Player, Sports Specialties and Starter Corp.

The media schedule for the spots includes NBA TV carriers NBC and Turner Network Television, as well as ESPN. Print ads will skew to upscale publications like Details, GQ, Rolling Stone, Spin and Vibe.

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