WILL SPONSORS FOLLOW IN THE WAKE OF THE ROCKETS' LIFT-OFF?
The Rockets completed a sweep of the Magic last night,
causing some to examine the potential marketing fallout for the
two-time champions and the runners-up. A sampling:
HAKEEM AND MARS' BIG RISK? The "advertising world took
notice" of Hakeem Olajuwon's deal with Uncle Ben's rice,
according to Jay Matthews of the WASHINGTON POST. Uncle Ben's
"product symbol" is an elderly black man "who could be a cook on
a Southern plantation," and Matthews wonders if Mars Inc., which
owns Uncle Ben's, took a "risk in hiring a leading black athlete
to sell its product." Olajuwon's agent, Ralph Greene, admitted
that the image was "a slave vestige," but said that the
connection did not bother Olajuwon (WASHINGTON POST, 6/15).
"Entertainment Tonight" profiled Olajuwon's Uncle Ben's deal and
reported that some African-Americans are upset because of the
logo, which they consider "demeaning to blacks" ("ET," 6/14).
"Michael and McDonald's, Shaq and Pepsi, the Admiral and Pizza
Hut, the Dream and Uncle Ben's rice. What's wrong with this
picture?," asks Tom Knott in Washington (WASHINGTON TIMES, 6/15).
In New York, Richard Sandomir writes of Hakeem's "whole new
transition game" to that of product pitchman. Marty Blackman of
Blackman & Raber, who matches athletes with advertisers, suggests
Hakeem endorse Volvo -- the "perfect Dream vehicle" -- and Sharp
business machines. Brian Murphy, publisher of Sport Marketing
Letter, sees him with Lexus or Craftsman tools (N.Y. TIMES,
6/15). In Toronto, Chris Young tries to sell Hakeem to Madison
Avenue: "Self-effacing. Team first. Unpretentious. An NBA guy
who does a pilgrimage to Mecca, not Madonna" (TORONTO STAR,
6/15). Olajuwon was on the "Today" show this morning. Hakeem on
a "three-peat": "I have to work on my game this summer and
prepare for next year" (NBC, 6/15).
HAPPY TO BE ON CLYDE'S SIDE: Clyde Drexler's strong
performance in the NBA Finals earned him the cover story in this
week's SI, and is good news for two OR-based companies, Avia
Group Int'l and BioArch. For them, "it's the kind of national
publicity that money can't buy." Drexler wears Avia 910 Fly-By-U
sneakers that retail for about $80, and is an investor in
BioArch, a Portland foot-support maker launched by former Blazer
physician Dr. Robert Cook. Bioarch President Julia Cook said she
hopes to put together a press tour with Drexler after the series,
"primarily aimed at specialty magazines such as Runner's World
and Self." Attorney Paul Loving of Stoel River Boley Jones &
Grey, said Drexler's "strengths are his clean-cut image; he's a
family man. He also speaks well and he's good looking. ... He's
a different animal compared to a lot of young guys in this
league" (Jeff Manning, Portland OREGONIAN, 6/14).
WHO ELSE IS NEXT: Other "possible endorsement winners,"
include Sam Cassell, Robert Horry, Anfernee Hardaway and Horace
Grant (Dottie Enrico, USA TODAY, 6/15).
NO NEED TO CALL, THEY'RE ON THEIR WAY HOME: In Orlando, the
sale of telephone calling cards featuring Magic players have
"taken a sharp turn upward since the playoffs began." A
Sprint/United Telephone-Florida spokesperson said sales of their
cards featuring Nick Anderson and the team mascot have doubled
(Rene Stutzman, ORLANDO SENTINEL, 6/15).
IF IT AIN'T BROKE, DON'T FIX IT: The Rockets' plans to
change their logo and uniforms are being met with resistance by
Houston fans. A HOUSTON CHRONICLE comment line was "overloaded
with calls" -- with votes against a change leading 5-to-1
(HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 6/13). In New York, George Vecsey writes of
the change, "In sports, everything changes. Usually to make a
buck" (N.Y. TIMES, 6/15).