REEBOK READIES WOMEN'S SIGNATURE SHOES: BASKETBALL, SOCCER STARS HELP NO. 2 FOOTWEAR MARKETER IN PIVOTAL ARENA

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Reebok International is planning to introduce the first signature footwear tied to its female athlete endorsers, including basketball players Rebecca Lobo and Saudia Roundtree.

Ms. Lobo will play in the Women's National Basketball Association starting up in June; Ms. Roundtree just completed her first season in the American Basketball League.

SOCCER ENDORSERS, TOO

As the major footwear players gear up for a pivotal year for their women's sports businesses, Reebok also plans to introduce high-end cleats tied to its top female soccer endorsers, Julie Foudy and Michelle Akers.

The shoe worn by Ms. Roundtree, who wears No. 10 in the ABL, is called the Dime. Names for the other shoes haven't been chosen.

"We want as much flexibility as we can get," said Jo Harlow, Reebok's VP-U.S. marketing. "We want the name to take on the meaning of athletes and their personalities and styles of play, names that have broader market potential."

The No. 2 U.S. footwear marketer will support most of these products with TV advertising from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago. Burnett will shoot a spot this month with Ms. Lobo that will be part of its ongoing "Reality" brand campaign, a documentary-style effort a la MTV's "Real World," about Reebok endorsers.

IN TIME FOR WNBA DEBUT

The spot will break at the time of the June debut of the WNBA.

Ms. Roundtree already has been the subject of "Reality" spots in 1997; new commercials featuring her and Ms. Foudy will air later this year. Print support is likely for the cleat worn by Ms. Akers.

Reebok, already a sponsor of the ABL, is finalizing a sponsorship deal with the WNBA that would give the shoe marketer a high-profile media platform.

Nike is a charter sponsor of the WNBA and as such has a more expansive package than the one Reebok is negotiating.

Reebok's package would give it national marketing rights and ad time during WNBA broadcasts on NBC, ESPN and Lifetime. Nike's deal gives the shoe leader that as well as exclusive marketing rights with each team.

Nike will assist each of the eight WNBA franchises in local ad and promotion efforts, a service Ree-bok provides to the ABL.

MOVES BY FILA, ADIDAS

Fila USA said it is in "early talks" with the WNBA and serious talks with the ABL, as well as with one of the latter's top players about an endorsement deal.

Adidas America also is talking with the WNBA and is said to be pursuing potential league stars for endorsement deals.

Because the WNBA's ad inventory is quickly running out, it's uncertain if other athletic footwear marketers will be able to get deals with ad time.

The sponsorship is mandatory if the marketers want their WNBA endorsers to wear their shoes, because the WNBA won't permit it otherwise. That policy has riled some companies.

"What's happening is that women have become able to . . . get a visibility they've never had before," Reebok's Ms. Harlow said. "This plays into a huge sales opportunity, because when you have a hero/role model, you have a strong desire to look like that hero, be like that hero and wear what that hero wears."

Ms. Harlow added that Reebok plans to advertise heavily in several new women's sports publications now in the works.

NIKE MOST AGGRESSIVE

Nike has been the most aggressive in marketing to women, so much so that it's seen as one of the main drivers behind women's sports. Nike recently launched an ad campaign featuring three of its WNBA players, including Lisa Leslie, created by Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore.

Nike projects that its women's sports business will make up 40% of its entire

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