PRO PLAYER FASHIONS URBAN EDGE FOR SPORTS APPAREL

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Pro Player next week launches a regional ad effort with Foot Locker targeting the urban market.

One of sports licensing's few growing brands, Pro Player is seeking to tap a consumer segment that fueled the industry's explosive growth in the early '90s.

With 1997 sales expected to hit an estimated $242 million, up 10% from last year, the Fruit of the Loom unit could jump from fifth place to as high as second this year in a category Sporting Goods Business estimates at $4 billion. While Starter Corp., Champion Products and Logo Athletic are focused on a so-called "classic" athletic look, Pro Player is setting itself apart by marketing apparel with a more contemporary style.

"If everyone did what Pro Player does, it wouldn't serve the market well," said Andy Bernstein, news editor at Sporting Goods Business. "Pro Player has done a good job of addressing a part of the market that's not looking for the classic sports look."

Pro Player teamed with retail partner Foot Locker on the new TV spot, created by Harris Drury Cohen, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The commercial rounds out the company's $10 million 1997 ad push, which until now has leveraged its $20 million sponsorship of Wayne Huizenga's Miami-based sports properties and its endorsement deal with Miami Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson.

The new ad features a young couple at a football game. He's warm in his stylish Green Bay Packers jacket; she's freezing in her sweater. She asks him for his jacket; he looks at her like she's crazy. She ditches him.

The spot will air during sports programming in Chicago, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington.

The media plan is consistent with Pro Player's strategy of spending where popular pro teams play, although Exec VP-Marketing and Licensing Bob Kosky said the commercial could run in more markets if effective.

MASS-MARKET AWARENESS

Pro Player's title sponsorship of the former Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami has given the brand mass-market awareness. The company also has used its other league licenses to create a best-selling line of jackets that are updated every season with technical enhancements as well as styling inspired by brands like Tommy Hilfiger.

Pro Player eschews low-end pricing and retail outlets while supporting its retail accounts with exclusives and multiple styles of key products.

Earlier this month, Pro Player scored in the Northeast with "Can the Tuna" T-shirts capitalizing on a matchup between the New York Jets and New England Patriots. Jets coach Bill "Tuna" Parcells coached the Patriots last year.

Such event-oriented products account for 15% of sales, said Pro Player President Doug Kelly, a figure that's expected to grow.

"More and more, retailers are holding back on their [orders] to leave room for creative products that emerge during the season," he said. "What they want are products that sell, that are properly designed and marketed and priced at costs

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