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Sports apparel maker Pro Player will redirect its marketing strategy to focus on diehard sports fans rather than athlete endorsements, an effort to improve sales in the faltering licensed apparel industry.

The Fruit of the Loom division will spend $4.5 million on the new campaign, themed "Are you a fan?"

Created by CGN Marketing & Creative Services, Boston, ads feature various sports fans, from those who paint their faces to fathers and daughters.

"We are targeting hard-core fans," said Mike Martin, director of marketing at Pro Player. "We want to speak directly to our consumer. It is the most sincere way."

Pro Player has had a tough time competing with deeper-pocketed rivals such as Nike, which lay out hundreds of million of dollars in athlete endorsements to tout their non-licensed sports apparel brands.


Starter Corp. has been Pro Player's main competitor in the licensed arena. Although Starter is the licensed sports apparel leader with sales of $300 million, compared with Pro Player's $150 million, softness in the category forced the company to go into bankruptcy reorganization earlier this year.

Previously, Pro Player had former Florida Marlins player Moises Alou, now with the Houston Astros, and Miami Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson under endorsement contracts. This was to put a face on its other major marketing asset -- Pro Player Stadium, where the Marlins and Dolphins play.

"Even though they had sponsored the stadium, there was a low overall awareness of the company and of what company did," said Eric Wanta, senior VP of the agency. "Pro Player is a relatively generic name."

So the plan is to rebuild the brand to the point where Pro Player can start selling sports apparel not licensed from professional sports teams.


Starting next month, Pro Player will be the official uniform maker for about half the National Hockey League teams, with the added benefit of being featured in TV close-ups of players. Marketing costs for that coup were about $2 million.

A generic TV campaign, featuring three different spots with a media buy of $1.5 million, will air on Fox Sports regional networks starting this fall.

One spot shows the full range of true sports fans with the voice-over: "For the fan who calls in sick on opening day, who sacrifices a favorite cap for a hat trick, who would never leave a game early to beat traffic. Pro Player sports apparel. Are you a fan?"

Another $500,000 will be spent on print, with ads running in Sports Illustrated, The Hockey News, and some sporting-goods trade publications. An equal amount will be spent on radio time.

A related consumer promotion with Fox Sports and NFL programming will ask fans to explain why they are the No. 1 fan of their team. The winner will get a trip

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