SNEAKER GIANTS ARE HEEDING CALL OF GREAT OUTDOORS

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"But we make more than just basketball shoes."

That refrain promises to be heard over and over again this week in Atlanta at the Super Show, the annual parade of new products from companies in the highly combative categories of athletic apparel, footwear and sporting goods.

Of course, Nike and Reebok International will show off their latest high-tech basketball shoes. But they will also expand their efforts in outdoorwear and other non-basketball lines.

And Converse is planning a major foray into outdoor in 1995, while Reebok will unveil this spring a Shaquille O'Neal signature line of casual apparel and sandals.

Grandmama in boots? Mr. O'Neal in sandals? Are they kidding?

Not at all. Diversification has become a reality for the likes of Nike and Reebok, which have seen outdoor fashions eat into sales and market share.

"The engine that has driven the business in the past has been the basketball category, and it has slowed down," said John Horan, editor of Sporting Goods Intelligence. "After 15 years of fashion leadership, the Nikes and Reeboks are facing increased competition, and now they're faced with reorganizing their business."

The basketball category was doomed to deflate this fiscal year anyway. Nike attributed its boom last year to the incredible exposure generated by star pitchmen Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley, who played on the 1992 Olympic Dream Team and faced off in the 1993 National Basketball Association finals. Mr. Jordan has since retired and Mr. Barkley has hinted he will do the same at the season's end.

Still, Nike is surprised by the extent of the stumble.

"While we didn't ex pect to duplicate our '93 basketball perfor mance, we also didn't expect to decline as much as we did either," said Ron Parham, direc tor of investor relations.

Nike hopes to change things with a rede signed basketball line, dubbed Air Max Squared, that will bow this fall. Other basket ball shoe marketers will move even sooner.

In February, Reebok unveils the Shaq Attaq III shoe, with ads from Leo Burnett USA, Chi cago, and Converse launches its BackJam shoe, endorsed by NBA star Larry Johnson and backed by ads from Houston, Effler & Partners, Boston.

Nonetheless, the major players at the Super Show this year will tout increased diversification

"The trend is moving away from pure athletic footwear and apparel, and getting into other categories, especially the fashionable outdoor category," said Howe Burch, director of advertising and communications for shoe marketer Fila USA. "Like our competitors, we are taking advantage of the shifting trends."

Reebok, for example, this spring will launch the Shaq Sandal and the Shaq Daddy line of casual apparel; an ad effort featuring Mr. O'Neal is in the works.

Nike, which will expand its outdoor footwear line by 30% this fall, expects fiscal '95 sales to reach $200 million, which would be up 67% from what it anticipates for fiscal '94. Mr. Parham believes outdoor could eventually become a $400 million category for Nike, whose advertising is handled by Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore.

Sales for Fila's outdoor products will exceed $10 million in fiscal '94, up from a mere $500,000 two years ago. It, too, will unveil an expanded outdoor apparel and footwear line with ad support from FCB/Leber Katz Partners, New York.

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