NIKE FINALLY PUTS ON HEAT FOR MARKETING HOCKEY;NEW PRODUCT LINES ARE EXPECTED TO BEGIN HITTING STORES THIS FALL

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The athletic footwear marketer most closely associated with the sport of hockey is finally getting serious about the business.

Nike will break a spot from Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., during Fox's Jan. 20 broadcast of the National Hockey League All-Star Game that showcases the game and one of its hardest-hitting players, Sergei Fedorov. Nike already has the Detroit Redwings star splashed on outdoor boards in Boston, where the game will be held. The spot, another execution in Nike's "Just do it" series, will air on Fox's NHL broadcasts and on ESPN.

"Last year, we used a hockey star and the sport in a spot to promote our cross-training business," said Joe McCarthy, Nike's director of worldwide advertising. "This new spot is a declaration that we are in the hockey business. It really is our first true hockey spot."

NOT IN STORES YET

And this despite the fact that Nike has yet to introduce any branded ice-hockey product at retail, even though Mr. Fedorov is shown in the spot playing in such. Nike launched a line of street hockey sneakers last summer, but retailers report that the product hasn't met sales expectations, one of the few disappointments of Nike's record-setting '95.

Yet the Fedorov spot is supposed to pave the way for moves to come. This fall, Nike will begin rolling out a full line of product, beginning with ice hockey, then roller hockey, and finally in-line skates. In addition, Nike will introduce a new footwear category, Dryland Training, a line of off-ice training shoes designed to function like cross-trainers for hockey players' use during the off-season.

Nike will support this introduction with more Wieden print and TV ads, and is talking about becoming a sponsor of the first Hockey World Cup, to be held in North America later this summer. The NHL and the NHL Players Association are the leaders in organizing and marketing the event.

Nike's hope is that the off-ice business will be strong (despite recent sluggishness) and help trigger demand for ice-hockey products. While such a dynamic has been established, retailers aren't sure how far it can go unless the sport can become more accessible and affordable for U.S. kids.

GROWTH POTENTIAL

Nike has invested in hockey because of the well-documented growth in in-line skating and street hockey. In 1994, Nike acquired Canstar, one of world's largest marketers of hockey equipment, for $395 million. In 1995, it became one of the NHL's biggest corporate sponsors.

Nike is also assessing the marketing future of its Canstar subsidiary, which currently sells hockey products under six brands, Bauer and Cooper most prominent. By 1997, only the Bauer brand will remain.

Advertising for Nike-branded products will be handled by Wieden. Last week, Nike awarded the Canstar account to PNMD/Publitel, Montreal.

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