Ameritech "won't commit to an extension" of its three-
year WTA Tour sponsorship, according to Len Ziehm of the
CHICAGO SUN-TIMES. Brian Fitzgerald, Dir of the Ameritech
Cup in Chicago, "spent considerably more time than usual"
monitoring the event last week, "and "didn't like much of
what he saw regarding the WTA's organizational efforts."
Fitzgerald: "I look at it from a marketing point of view,
and they're missing a lot. They make it so difficult to
market their sport because they don't know who's playing
when. Match times are always subject to change. They've
got to bring some organizational sanity to it." Fitzgerald
said that while IMG has "made significant inroads in
attendance" this season, it may not be enough "to keep its
tournament sponsor." Fitzgerald believes "far bigger crowds
are possible." Fitzgerald: "If I could, I'd publish
brackets with the time each match is going to be played.
That's the prime reason we don't draw crowds early in the
week. Monica Seles is the top draw in tennis, but for a
tournament to properly market, it's got to be able to tell
people when [Seles] is going to play" (SUN-TIMES, 11/9).
Replica "99" Statue of Liberty jerseys with Wayne
Gretzky's name misspelled, "Gretkzy" as it was for an
October 30 game, will be on sale at MSG this week for $999
(N.Y. POST, 11/9).....The Pacers have hired NJ-based
Integrated Sports Int'l to market naming rights for its new
Indianapolis Fieldhouse arena (ISI).
Working conditions at Nike-contracted factories in
Vietnam and Asia were in the news again over the weekend as
findings from an audit conducted for Nike by Ernst & Young
was obtained by the media. The report found "many unsafe
conditions" at a Nike factory near Ho Chi Minh City where
workers "were exposed to carcinogens that exceeded local
legal standards by 177 times in parts of the plant" and
showed that 77% "of the employees suffered from respiratory
problems." The Ernst & Young report was highlighted in a
front-page feature by Steven Greenhouse in Saturday's N.Y.
TIMES. The findings also showed that employees were "forced
to work 65 hours a week, far more than Vietnamese law
allows, for $10 a week." Greenhouse: "The inspection report
offers an unusually detailed look into conditions at one of
Nike's plants at a time when the world's largest athletic
shoe company is facing criticism from human rights and labor
groups that it treats workers poorly" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/8).
As the study was released to the media, Nike issued the
complete report findings in a news conference on Friday
afternoon. The audit was conducted in November '96 and
submitted to Nike in January '97. Vada Manager, Nike Senior
Manager for PR, said the company has taken steps to improve
factory working conditions upon receiving the report,
including reducing overtime hours and restricting the work
week; upgrading the ventilation systems; and ensuring proper
safety equipment for workers. Manager: "Clearly, this
report is not a whitewash. By the recommendations cited in
this audit and steps Nike has taken to improve the working
conditions, it is clear that our system works" (Nike).
REAX: The FINANCIAL TIMES' William Lewis called the
report "embarrassing" for Nike (FINANCIAL TIMES, 11/10).
...In N.Y., Phil Mushnick asks, "Where do all the Nike-
bought social activists go when these reports are revealed?
... And how many TV networks take a dive on these stories
because Nike spends millions advertising $150 slave-wage-
made, status symbol sneakers to kids?" (N.Y. POST, 11/10).
...In Washington, DC, "more than" 50 lawmakers called on
Nike "to improve labor standards in Third World factories
and to employ more people" in the U.S. A letter to Nike
Chair Phil Knight said, "As members of the U.S. Congress we
are deeply disappointed and embarrassed that a company like
Nike, headquartered in the United States, could be so
directly involved in the ruthless exploitation of hundreds
of thousands of desperate Third World workers." The letter
was spearheaded by Rep. Bernard Sanders (D-VT) and Rep.
Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) (BLOOMBERG/NEWSDAY, 11/10)....At UNC-
Chapel Hill, "roughly" 200 students rallied Friday afternoon
and "vowed to pressure Nike to improve its labor practices."
UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Michael Hooker defended the
university's athletic marketing partnership with Nike but
did promise a campus committee would review future corporate
relationships at the university (NEWS & OBSERVER, 11/8).
In Portland, Jeff Manning, who spent a month in Asia
examining Nike and other companies' business practices,
debuted part one of his three-part series on Sunday that
included a "rare" interview with Nike Chair Phil Knight.
Manning wrote that Nike products "more than doubled" over
the past three years, "forcing the company and its
subcontractors to crank up production. That, in turn,
increased the heat on workers and, in some cases, led to
outright abuse. The resulting backlash promises to dog Nike
well into the 21st century." Manning: "Nike has become an
international incident." Knight is "by turns furious and
philosophical" abouth the criticism: "For whatever reason,
we've been the poster boy on globalization. That's a very
emotional topic" (Portland OREGONIAN, 11/9).
WORKING HISTORY: Manning traced Nike's working
relationships with Asian factories and wrote that by '97,
"that network spanned 33 countries on four continents and
had presented Nike with a complex set of issues, many
cultural differences and occupational health standards." In
the interview, Knight said the labor controversy is not
hurting business, even with a 20% drop in stock price since
January 1. Knight: "I don't attribute that to the fact that
we're getting any sort of resistance from our core
customer." Nike officials say that critics are "unfairly
singling out their company and are distorting" the issue.
Knight: "Nike creates a lot of emotion. A lot of that
emotion is positive. But there's a flip side to that. ...
The people who are turned off by the emotion that we
generate really want to believe these things. They
basically view us as a rebel that should be taken down."
Manning: "As serious as Nike's image problem has become, the
company has no plans to change its hugely profitable
subcontracting strategy. The cost-cutting expertise of the
subcontractors produces profit margins and cash that
domestic manufactures find hard to match" (OREGONIAN, 11/9).
The first Nike ads "developed specifically for the
Chinese market, star local hoopsters and make earnest
appeals to Chinese nationalism," according to Sally Goll
Beatty of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. As Nike has been "stung"
by critics of its aggressive marketing tactics overseas, the
company "is starting to play down its rebel image outside
the U.S.," including "doing away with the antiauthority
rhetoric" and avoiding its U.S. stars. Nike Dir of Global
Ad Geoffrey Frost said that Chinese youth "admire Michael
Jordan," but by using local athletes Nike is "letting people
know in China we see them as heroes." Beatty: "Still, it's
unclear how well the culturally sensitive approach will go
down with kids in China. ... Boosting sales abroad won't be
a layup. Nike's best-selling shoes in China cost the U.S.
equivalent of $59 to $78 -- still out of the reach of most
ordinary Chinese" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 11/10).