SBJ/February 18 - 24, 2002/Marketingsponsorship

Michelob Light hits the beach as first sponsor for re-formed volleyball circuit

Anheuser-Busch's Michelob Light brand has signed the first sponsorship deal for the latest iteration of the Association of Volleyball Professionals. The property is being relaunched by founder and former executive director Leonard Armato, now reborn as AVP commissioner after buying what was left of the defunct men's and women's tours with other investors.

In what was described as a multiyear, low-seven-figure package, Anheuser-Busch gets ads and product placement in the two two-hour AVP events that will air on NBC this August and in a likely cable deal. Also included: on-site signs, player rights and title sponsorship to the Manhattan Beach Open, along with local print and radio inventory controlled by the AVP.

Armato's is the latest in a seemingly endless series of attempts to resuscitate a property that has all the attraction that world-class athletes on California beaches can provide. After becoming a national property with plenty of NBC exposure in the 1990s, however, the AVP crashed because of conflicts between players and management — who at one point were one and the same. With men and women being sold as one property, Armato said, "The appeal is proven," adding that he has 150 players under contact. "It's the marketing infrastructure that needs to be built, and we're doing that."

The seven-stop tour begins in California in May and will finish in Las Vegas in September.

 SANEX ON THE WAY OUT? Tennis insiders expect Sanex to back out of its five-year, $40 million title sponsorship of the WTA after this season. Sanex signed the deal in late '99 but has an out clause it is expected to execute soon, according to senior industry sources. That would mean that in the first few months under new CEO Kevin Wulff the tour has lost its top sponsor in Sanex and its No. 2 corporate patron in Nasdaq, making some wonder aloud if funding for the league will be a real problem next year.

Additionally, the sources said, the WTA's planned move to Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel, Fla., is not working out, although a face-saving marketing deal that would make Saddlebrook an official WTA resort is in the works. The now headquarterless WTA is scrambling for a new headquarters, with Atlanta a prime possibility. The WTA closed its Stamford, Conn., offices late last year.

  HAMM TO PUMP NEW “ICE”: Gatorade will launch its new clear "Ice" formulation with a national spot breaking in March that features women's soccer diva Mia Hamm in her first solo ad for the Pepsi-owned isotonic brand. The creative, shot at the Los Angeles Coliseum earlier this month, shows Hamm scoring the decisive goal in a night match against an indeterminate foreign foe, the point being that she has "ice" in her veins.

Ad types have been wondering how creative executions for a translucent beverage would mesh with the colored sweat that has been used in creative to illustrate Gatorade's efficacy as a thirst quencher and the brand's various flavors. Sources said the ad will show "ice" coursing through Hamm's veins, and have it freezing, cracking and dripping off her face.

  REEBOK SCORES BIG IN BOSTON: Think New England sports fans were ebullient over the Patriots' first championship? NFL sources say that Reebok sold more than 400,000 championship caps in the wake of the Pats' Super Bowl win. By way of comparison, last year's Baltimore victory yielded a paltry run of 90,000 championship caps; the St. Louis Rams' win in Super Bowl XXXIV accounted for 200,000 caps sold. NFL sources report that $102 million in Super Bowl XXXVI merchandise was sold this year.

  AND 1 TO BOOST ROSTER: For anyone looking to find hoopsters as endorsers for their basketball sneakers, it's a buyer's market. And 1 plans to take advantage of that by increasing its NBA roster from 27 to 70 by the beginning of the 2002-03 season. That would give the basketball sneaker and apparel marketer around 20 percent of NBA rosters, allowing it to appear considerably larger than its 1 percent market share of the $7.8 billion (wholesale) branded domestic athletic shoe industry. Kevin Garnett and Latrell Sprewell have been carrying the mail for And 1.

Is there room for another lead endorser? Some attractive possibilities for next season include Charlotte's Baron Davis, now with Nike; former And 1 poster child Stephon Marbury; and likely No. 1 draft pick Jason Williams of Duke.

Terry Lefton can be reached at tlefton@amcity.com.

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