TOPPS, REEBOK AID PRO BOWL BALLOTING

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The National Football League has enlisted Topps Trading Cards, Reebok International and Just for Feet stores to take part in an expanded marketing effort for its Pro Bowl fan balloting.

With America Online back on board and with an extended window of opportunity for voting at NFL stadiums, NFL Properties has pieced together its biggest program backing Pro Bowl balloting since the league allowed fans to vote four seasons ago.

5 MIL BALLOTS

It expects to distribute 5 million ballots, not counting the voting that may take place through AOL.

The NFL's ballot count is dwarfed by other professional sports leagues that have long allowed their fans to vote for all-stars.

The National Basketball Association expects to distribute 25 million ballots this season in arenas and through McDonald's Corp. restaurants. It also expects a significant increase in online voting via nba.com, which last season took in 250,000 votes. Major League Baseball, aided by Pepsi-Cola Co. and retailers CompUSA, Foot Locker and 7-Eleven, tallied 65 million votes in North America in 1997.

However, those other leagues allow their fans complete say in who becomes an all-star. In the NFL, no matter how many fans vote, they only count as one-third of a player's overall tally, with players and coaches accounting for the remaining two-thirds.

Last year, Pro Bowl balloting was conducted through AOL and at stadiums. The challenge facing NFL Properties this year, said David Newman, VP-events, was to bolster the status of the Pro Bowl as a major supporting event in the NFL season, one that sponsors, licensees and broadcasters can rally around.

Reebok, an NFL Pro Line apparel licensee, is leveraging the Pro Bowl to drive sales at 70 Just for Feet retail superstores nationwide.

Licensee/retailer alliances on all-star balloting are common among leagues: Russell Athletic and Sears, Roebuck & Co., for example, are teaming up this season to sponsor the National Hockey League's effort.

FOOTBALL TRADING CARDS

More innovative is including a trading-card licensee in the mix. Beginning in late October, Topps will include a ballot featuring one position per conference in every pack of its Stadium Club football cards, representing 2 million ballots. Fans mail back the ballot, available in eight out of every nine packs of cards.

Topps, Reebok and Just for Feet will promote their programs with point-of-purchase advertising.

Balloting also will take place at the NFL Experience at Walt Disney World.

The Pro Bowl squads will be announced on ESPN Dec. 11; the game will be played in Honolulu and broadcast on ABC Feb. 1. The NFL is talking with both networks

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