REEBOK SPOTS TIP OFF NEW LEAGUE ;SPONSOR OF WOMEN'S BASKETBALL PLANS TV, PRINT AND RADIO ADS

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Reebok International this week breaks an ad campaign backing its sponsorship of the American Basketball League, the women's pro league that will beat the National Basketball Association to market when its first games tip off Oct. 18.

The TV portion of the push, whose media budget wasn't disclosed, hits today on MTV: Music Television, then will run during ABL game telecasts on the SportsChannel and Prime Sports networks (both of which will soon adopt the Fox Sports brand name). Commercials also will air during Turner Broadcasting System's TNT telecasts of NBA games, which begin Oct. 28.

The NBA women's league-the Women's National Basketball Association-doesn't launch until next June.

ADS IN EIGHT MARKETS

Reebok's effort also includes radio, print and outdoor in each of the league's eight markets. Ads tout the ABL tagline, "It's a whole new ball game."

The TV spot created by Reebok agency Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, will be modified by the ABL for its own use in those markets.

Reebok will launch another effort in those markets in January, about the time the marketer's first ABL-licensed replica uniforms will hit. The main outlets for distribution will be on-site vendors and Lady Foot Locker, also a league sponsor.

Reebok will outfit four teams-the New England Blizzard, Atlanta Glory, Colorado Xplosion and San Jose Lasers-and was instrumental in creating team names and logos.

Russell Athletic has been contracted to produce uniforms for three other teams, while Sports Bell will outfit yet another. Neither of these companies will be able to market products until it pays for a license or becomes a league sponsor.

REEBOK ENDORSERS

A number of Reebok-endorsing athletes will play in the league, including Jennifer Azzi and Saudia Roundtree, both of whom have appeared in recent Reebok ads.

"We're trying to create heroes for women," said Jo Harlow, VP-U.S. brand marketing for Reebok. "Up until now, they just looked up to the same NBA heroes that boys looked up to. But that's about to change dramatically."

Other sponsors include First USA Bank, offering an ABL Visa card, and sports apparel marketer G Industries.

Gary Cavalli, ABL co-founder and VP, said two more sponsors will soon be announced, including one in the automotive category.

Sponsors are required to buy media time on the national cable package.

WINNING PRAISE

The ABL has received plaudits for its sponsorship and TV deals, supportive markets and strategy of piggybacking the college and pro basketball seasons, whereas the WNBA will have a summer season. But the new league has been slow in getting the word out about its brand and ticket sales via advertising.

"We're two to three weeks late in getting into the market," Mr. Cavalli said. "We've done direct mail and publicity, but we're a lean and mean start-up and don't have the budget we'd like to have."

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