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Thirteen months perforated by controversy have left sports' image a bit tattered, according to an Advertising Age Fax Poll.

Of those responding, 75% believe the shocks of the past year have diminished sports' effectiveness as a marketing vehicle.

One respondent may have been reacting as both a fan and a marketing pro by asserting: "Sports? We don't need no stinkin' sports!"

This kind of reaction comes from a group that has firmly believed in sports' past value for marketers. Virtually all said that sports were an effective marketing vehicle before the turmoil of the past year-and more than 80% labeled sports very effective.

"Baseball was the most exciting in years!" one respondent said.

Put emphasis on the was.

Another concluded: "The baseball strike tarnished all of professional sports."

Some seemed fed up.

"This year began with Tonya, then baseball dried up-each season's been marred," one respondent said.

Another bitterly added: "Yes, people are sick of hearing multimillion-dollar athletes complain about salary caps and hard play schedules."

"If this strike continues, absolutely" sports' effectiveness will be diminished, a respondent said. "People are fed up with these overpaid stars. Sports' image is all business."

"People don't want to put up with these overpaid athletes-the audiences have been burned," another said.

One respondent conjectured: "Maybe it's caused consumers to step back and say, `Get real or get out!"'

A few thought the damage to sports was small or temporary and fans will come back.

"Once all strikes, lockouts, etc. are settled, people tend to forget the bad," a respondent said. "Professional athletes will always be viable."

Three out of every four respondents believe sports will remain a viable tie-in vehicle for marketers, despite the disarray and climbing cost of getting involved. But some warned marketers will have to be more selective. As one said of using sports: "they are no longer a `no-brainer."'

"Cost wasn't the concern," another said. "Credibility is. Even kids are showing a loss of interest in sports promotions. Sports as a separate business entity may be in serious trouble."

"Sports are an escape," one respondent said. "The more the sports page looks like the business page ... the worse for marketers."

About 66% of those answering the fax poll believe marketers will be more reluctant to get in the game by advertising on sports, becoming sponsors or using athletes as endorsers.

"Marketers will be more cautious about endorsers," a respondent contended. "If O.J. isn't safe, who is?"

"Some [marketers] already have [abandoned sports]. Major clients are turning away from all types of celebrity endorsers fearing O.J. situations," another said. "Sports, and the endorsement business, is in for a big surprise soon."

But maybe in the long run, it's only no news that's bad news for sports and their allied marketers. As one respondent put it: "Any publicity is good publicity."

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