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It's beginning to look a lot like basketball season, all year round-at least for tie-in promotions.

Spring, end-of-season playoff time, typically brings an explosion of NBA-theme promotions, but fourth-quarter activity is now heating up. League officials note that NBA promotions will even continue during the off-season in 1995, including some unprecedented back-to-school efforts.

The NBA is becoming a perennial promotional event as marketers recognize basketball's growing popularity. Among those not waiting till spring are Schick Shaving Products Group; Nestle Frozen Food Co.'s Stouffer's brand; Dollar Rent-A-Car; Sears, Roebuck & Co.; and Foot Locker.

The high-fashion role of NBA-related merchandise has also become an intensive focus for retailers, which sell more than half their products in the fourth quarter. The NBA is doing its best to help retailers make basketball a year-round event by enhancing opportunities for marketers seeking tie-ins.

"We set out over a year and half ago to package media time and promotional rights in with our sponsorships," said Rick Welts, president of NBA Properties. "All of our sponsors have commitments to purchase media, and soon, all of our sponsors will be doing promotions. We have a lot of room to grow in this area."

NBA Properties has also created a new division to provide marketing and promotional support for its licensees and retailers.

"It is becoming increasingly important to further distinguish our licensed products from the licensed products of other sports leagues and entertainment companies," said Bill Daugherty, managing director-marketing programs and sales development for NBA Properties.

For Schick, the NBA has compiled every league activity concerning its first-year players-the Rookie Game during All-Star Weekend, the Rookie of the Month and Year awards, the end-of-the-year All-Rookie Team, even the NBA draft-into a Schick-branded marketing program.

"We were a sponsor of just the Rookie Game last year, and we felt we could take it to another level this year," said Hugh Duffy, senior product manager responsible for Schick's Men's Systems businesses, who added that this was the marketer's biggest consumer promotion and most integrated NBA effort ever.

In January, Schick fires off a "Picture Yourself at the Schick Rookie Game" sweepstakes, in which winners get trips to the 1996 Rookie Game. Entry forms will be attached to print ads, free standing inserts and at displays in 20,000 retail outlets.

Additional sweepstakes information will be available via a toll-free number touted in TV and radio advertising created by NBA Entertainment, Secaucus, N.J. The spots will air on NBC and Turner Network Television.

Next spring, Schick will introduce an official NBA Tracer razor decked in league colors and sporting the NBA logo. Specially marked boxes of Tracer refills will include trading cards showcasing new stars. Promotional efforts are handled by Marketworks, Ridgefield, Conn.; National Media Group, New York, manages Schick's NBA sponsorship.

This week, Stouffer's starts offering wall-size posters detailing the NBA's TV schedule on NBC and TNT to consumers who mail in $1.50 and two proofs-of-purchase of its french bread pizza.

Dollar Rent-A-Car later this month offers consumers the chance to win NBA merchandise by renting a car three times before Dec. 15. Stouffer's and Dollar will support their efforts with in-store ads.

At least nine regional retailers will conduct regional promotions in November and December, up from only one last year. On the national level, Sears on Nov. 13 will distribute a circular to 16 million homes that includes a spread featuring licensed apparel and electronic games. Consumers will receive an "NBA Jam Session" book with a $20 purchase.

And on the international level, all-star balloting will be conducted through Foot Locker retail outlets in the U.S., Australia, Canada and Mexico. The effort includes a promotion in which a special all-star game video will be given away with purchase of NBA-licensed products at Foot Locker.

Kate Fitzgerald coordinates Promotion Marketing News. Reach us by fax at (312) 649-5331 or e-mail address [email protected]

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