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Nike is criticizing the Big 3 broadcast TV networks for rejecting an ad in which Nike criticizes the Big 3 broadcast TV networks.

But the athletic footwear marketer denied it was deliberately trying to court controversy-and media attention-by creating an ad it knew the networks wouldn't accept.

Rather, Nike said its point is to further protest what it believes is TV sports' prejudice against soccer-a sport Nike sees as a major growth area.

The ad in question blasts the networks for not giving more time to women's soccer. The The 30-second commercial features Mia Hamm, who played on the U.S. women's team, which Nike sponsors. The spot's voice-over notes that Olympic viewers "didn't see the best football player in America win a gold medal in Atlanta this summer . . . because all the networks agree that the best football player in America isn't good for ratings."

NBC, CBS and ABC rejected the ad in storyboard form before it was created. ABC later rejected the finished commercial as well. Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., created the spot as part of a larger campaign promoting Nike's soccer business.

"We felt-and it's the sentiment among this country's 17 million soccer fans-that NBC dropped the ball by not showing women's soccer at the Olympics," a Nike spokesman said. "We wanted to be a voice for those 17 million to say, `Hey, you say it's not good for ratings, but why don't you even give it a try?"'

ESPN, primary TV partner for Major League Soccer, and Fox, which doesn't broadcast soccer programming, began airing the spot earlier this month, Nike said, as did Comedy Central and Black Entertainment Television.


Nike is staking much of its future global growth in becoming the premier soccer brand. Currently a $200 million business for Nike, the company wants to be the category leader by the 2002 World Cup.

ABC said it rejected the ad in storyboard form on the grounds that the commercial's claims were erroneous. ABC and ESPN, both owned by Walt Disney Co., carry an array of soccer programming, most of it featuring men's teams.

NBC also confirmed it refused to run the spot. At presstime, CBS had not returned phone calls.

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