Nike kicks nets for rejecting ad

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Nike is criticizing the Big 3 broadcast TV networks for rejecting an ad in which Nike criticizes the Big 3 broadcast TV networks.

But the athletic footwear marketer denied it was deliberately trying to court controversy--and media attention--by creating an ad it knew the networks wouldn't accept.

Rather, its point is to further protest what it believes is TV sports' prejudice against soccer--a sport Nike sees as a major growth area.

The ad in question blasts the networks for not giving more time to women's soccer. This criticism is aimed primarily at NBC, which decided against airing the women's gold medal soccer match, won by the U.S., at the 1996 Summer Olympics.

`NOT GOOD FOR RATING'

The 30-second commercial features Mia Hamm, who played on the U.S. women's team, which Nike sponsors. The spot's voice-over notes that Olympic viewers "didn't see the best football player in America win a gold medal in Atlanta this summer . . . because all the networks agree that the best football player in America isn't good for ratings."

NBC, CBS and ABC rejected the ad in storyboard form before it was created. ABC later rejected the finished commercial as well. Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., created the spot as part of a larger campaign promoting Nike's soccer business.

`NBC DROPPED THE BALL'

"We felt--and it's the sentiment among this country's 17 million soccer fans--that NBC dropped the ball by not showing women's soccer at the Olympics," a Nike spokesman said. "We wanted to be a voice for those 17 million to say, `Hey, you say it's not good for ratings, but why don't you even give it a try?' "

ESPN, primary TV partner for Major League Soccer, and Fox, which doesn't broadcast soccer programming, began airing the commercial earlier this month, Nike said, as did Comedy Central and Black Entertainment Television.

Nike is staking much of its future worldwide growth in becoming the premier soccer brand. Currently a $200 million business for Nike, the company wants to be the category leader by the 2002 World Cup. Rivals Adidas and Reebok International are about to ramp up their marketing efforts in the sport as well.

ABC CALLS CLAIMS ERRONEOUS

ABC said it rejected the ad in storyboard form on the grounds that the commercial's claims were erroneous. ABC and ESPN, both owned by Walt Disney Co., carry an array of soccer programming, most of it featuring men's teams. Both also carry various women's sports.

NBC also confirmed it refused to run the spot. At press time, CBS had not returned phone calls.

Copyright May 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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