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Nike is putting its marketing muscle behind an effort to kick off a new professional soccer league, but a wary group of prospective sponsors remains on the sidelines, playing a game of wait-and-see.

Organizers for Major League Soccer, led by World Cup Organizing Committee Chairman Alan Rothenberg, made an impassioned pitch to prospective investors and sponsors last week in Pasadena, Calif., site of the weekend World Cup final between Italy and Brazil.

At the gathering, Nike announced a four-year, $8 million deal to provide uniforms and shoes for six of the 12 teams, which begin play in the spring.

"If the '70s was the decade of running and fitness and the '80s was the decade of basketball, we want the '90s to be the decade of soccer," said Sandy Bodecker, general manager of Nike soccer.

Nike previously nixed a $1 million deal to outfit four teams as well as an 8% equity stake in the league, valued at $10 million. But after similar rejections from Adidas America, Apex One and Reebok International, Nike swooped in to forge the new agreement.

Major League Soccer players with their own shoe deals won't be forced to change their footwear.

Organizers said they need $50 million to launch the league. ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 have signed on as TV carriers and Mitre will be an official equipment supplier.

Organizers are looking for 12 official league sponsors. The $2 million-a-year packages, over which many marketers have so far balked, include TV time before and after games and during halftime; 5 minutes of on-screen presence; in-stadium signage; logos on uniforms; and a bevy of promotional and marketing rights.

Organizers will next meet individually with prospective investors and sponsors. Those that have heard a preliminary pitch include Coca-Cola Co. (said to be very interested); AT&T; MCI Communications Corp.; Sprint; and Walt Disney Co.

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