NIKE VS. REEBOK A BATTLE FOR HEARTS, MINDS & FEET AGASSI AND SAMPRAS? INTENSE. SHAQ AND JORDAN? SPECTACULAR. BUT FOR MURDEROUS RIVALRY, FEW CONTESTS IN SPORTS CAN MATCH THE WAR OF THE SNEAKER GIANTS.
(FORTUNE Magazine) – Your son, newly a teenager, is playing in a basketball game in an overheated gym in suburban Connecticut. As he grapples for a rebound, a nasty red-haired kid on the other team nails him in the neck with an elbow. For once the myopic referee calls a foul. You can't help noticing your boy's new sneakers as he walks up to the free-throw line. They are black, blunt objects decorated with a Swoosh, the ubiquitous check-mark logo of Nike Inc. Your son is a Nike Boy, and he longed for these particular shoes with fierce adolescent passion. You are happy that you could please him, but the credit-card slip for $112.63, still smoldering in your wallet, has all but ruined your week end. Then you notice that four of the kids lined up waiting for your son to shoot are also Nike Boys, while the other two are Ree bok Boys. Their near ly identical chunky, black shoes bear that company's crossed-darts logo, called the Vector. You begin to wonder: What makes kids lust for one or the other? What schoolyard drama or sports god on TV has compelled each of them to pick a side? You ask yourself these things while your kid blows both free throws.
A whole new industry--a phenomenon, really--was born 30 years ago on the athletic fields around Portland, Oregon. Philip Knight, a former University of Oregon track star and a Stanford MBA, had chucked his accounting career and formed a company to import high-quality running shoes to the U.S. From the beginning it was clear that this would be no ordinary enterprise.
Knight thought a lot about the culture of his new company, eventually named Nike after the Greek goddess of victory. He wanted his employees to exhibit the deep corporate loyalty he had seen in Japan, and he wanted them to feel the adrenaline rush of athletes performing at the highest level. He also tried his best to re-create the towel-snapping camaraderie of the locker room. Meetings of key Nike managers were known as "buttfaces," top executives used nicknames like "Dragon Lady" and "Rolling Thunder," and a tequila fountain was standard at large sales conferences. No matter how grand Nike would become, declared Knight, he hoped always to be surrounded by "magnificent bastards and wonderful goons."
Early on, Knight concluded that his fate was tied to Asia, and he and the disparate bunch of ex-jocks he hired as top aides spent much of the company's first years shuttling across the Pacific in search of capital. They also chased cheap labor from Japan to Korea to Taiwan. But the driving force behind Knight's new company, the magic dust that would make the enterprise fly, was his ability to attract popular sports heroes to his cause and then build new product lines and marketing campaigns around them. He operated on the premise that in high school there are only Five Cool Guys who set the social and sartorial standards everyone else follows. Knight reasoned that if he could get his shoes on the most dominant and charismatic runners, the sporting equivalent of Five Cool Guys, then the pack might very well come along.
Consumers seemed to respond best to athletes who combined a passion to win with a maverick disregard for convention: "Outlaws with morals," in the words of Watts Wacker, a Yankelovich consultant who has worked with Nike. Steve Prefontaine, the University of Oregon track star who regularly tilted with the NCAA and other regulatory bodies, was Nike's first effective sports icon. Later, when the company began producing shoes and apparel for other sports, tennis brats John McEnroe and Andre Agassi, along with basketball bad boy Charles Barkley, fit the mold perfectly.
No one, not even Knight, could have predicted just how successful his formula would prove. For a decade starting in the mid-1960s, when Nike sales reps began handing out free shoes at local track meets on the West Coast, the company's revenues grew at nearly triple-digit rates. "They managed to create a need where none had existed," says Jennifer Black Groves, executive vice president of the Portland investment firm Black & Co.
Nike was selling $14 million worth of footwear and apparel annually by 1976--and then things got really interesting. The jogging craze took off across the U.S., and a pricey pair of sneakers became the footwear of choice for everyone from movie stars to mortgage brokers. By the time Nike went public in 1980, revenues had reached $270 million, the company was the market leader in the U.S., and it was threatening the longtime global dominance of German manufacturers Puma and Adidas.
The year before, Paul Fireman had dropped out of Boston University to take over his family's sporting-goods business. One of the first things he did was acquire the North American rights to three British-made sneakers. Reebok, a line of white-leather women's aerobic shoes, took off. Sales continued to explode through the 1980s as more women got into exercise, and boys, girls, men, and women began to wear good sneakers to work, to school, and just about everywhere else. Fireman bought out the parent company in 1984 and took Ree bok public the following year. Revenues, $13 million in 1983, had rocketed to $1.4 billion by the time Reebok passed Nike in 1987.
Nike had missed the market for women's sneakers (how like a jock) and was further surprised by a sudden break in the jogging fever in the mid-1980s. But Knight eventually regained his momentum by returning to his core strategy--building new products around a popular athlete. In this case he had perhaps the Coolest Guy Ever to work with: Chicago Bulls basketball star Michael Jordan. Marketing experts reach for superlatives when they talk about Jordan's ability to reach consumers. "He does things that don't seem possible, yet you see the humanness," says Steve Roth, a divisional president at Research International in New York. Says David Burns, who heads a Chicago firm that links sports celebrities with corporate clients: "There's an integrity there--there's something solid about him."
Nike, along with its ad agency, Portland's Wieden & Kennedy, made heavy use of Jordan's appeal in a series of ad campaigns that changed sports marketing forever. Some TV spots were shot in black and white in a choppy, music-video style. Filmmaker Spike Lee employed a nebbishy, deadpan character to play off Jordan's soaring genius in a particularly inventive series of TV spots. "These ads are legendary. You can't really overstate their importance in painting Nike as the brand of athletic performance," says Massachusetts marketing expert James X. Mullen. Says Steve Friedman, a senior vice president at Ammirati & Puris/Lintas in New York City: "These ads changed the economics and mechanics of everything we do. They redefined what is celebrity."
The Air Jordan line of footwear and apparel, a flashy collection in black and red, brought in well over $100 million in new revenues in its first year--and Nike began to move back on track. The company regained the revenue lead from Reebok in 1990, $2.24 billion vs. $2.16 billion, and Knight has been stretching his lead ever since. Reebok remains a formidable presence; the company earned $254 million on revenues of $3.28 billion last year, compared with Nike's $299 million on $3.79 billion in revenues. Together the two companies sell more than half the athletic footwear in the U.S., and they control over 40% of the global market. Only Adidas, with about 10% of global sales, remains a significant competitor.
Nike now seems poised to leave its chief rival in the dust. While Knight's company reported net income of $113.4 million in its most recent fiscal quarter, up 64% from a year ago, Reebok has hit some bumps. Nike has eaten into its core market, women's fitness; its efforts to enter mainstream businesses, such as basketball shoes and apparel, have yet to take hold; and the company has also not moved nimbly enough into new, fast-growing markets such as hiking and outdoor gear. After second-quarter earnings fell from last year's 60 cents per share to 40 cents this year, Fireman announced plans to cut 197 jobs as part of an effort to save about $75 million a year. Says John Horan, publisher of Sporting Goods Intelligence, the industry bible: "I would say that Reebok does not have a remote chance of catching up to Nike in the short term."
DON'T FAKE THE FUNK
Shaquille O'Neal, the oversize basketball star at Louisiana State University, declared himself eligible for the NBA draft in 1992, at the end of his junior year. At more than 7 feet and 300 pounds, O'Neal would be an obvious physical presence in professional basketball, a human billboard. Fireman offered him a five-year package, reportedly in the $15 million range, to wear Reeboks. Then the 20-year-old rookie got an invitation to visit Nike. Accompanied by his stepfather and agent, Shaq showed up wearing a jacket with a large Reebok logo on the back. "That was compounded by a funny attitude in general," says Knight. "In any event, we chose not to make him an offer."
It was the signing of Shaq, really, that marked the start of the war between Nike and Reebok for the hearts, minds, and feet of the American public. Before then, Reebok had certainly gained Knight's attention, but the companies were too different from each other to match up in a direct way. There were basic similarities: Both were in the athletic footwear and apparel business, and both maintained the bulk of their manufacturing base in low-cost countries. But Nike was largely focused on delivering high-quality, high-priced products to male athletes and wannabes. Reebok's chief market was women's fitness, and its product line included a range of lower-priced casual shoes.
Around 1990, after Nike had regained the revenue lead, Fireman had launched sallies into Nike strongholds, such as men's team sports. Fireman boosted his product-development budget and brought in a slew of consultants to help him broaden his products' appeal. And, having gone to school on Nike's core marketing strategy, he decided that he had to sign up some Cool Guys of his own if he was to compete in this new arena. Nike had Agassi and Pete Sampras in tennis; Reebok signed Michael Chang, who has special appeal in rapidly growing Asian markets, and 14-year-old African American prodigy Venus Williams. Nike had Ken Griffey Jr., the Seattle Mariners superstar, for baseball; Reebok signed Chicago White Sox slugger Frank Thomas. Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman was a Nike athlete; Reebok signed his electrifying running back, Emmitt Smith.
But pro basketball was the crucial battleground, a vital global showcase--and one that Nike basically owned, with Jordan, Barkley, and a dozen other top stars on its roster. Ree bok had a number of lesser lights in camp, including dynamic Seattle Supersonics forward Shawn Kemp, but it was an uneven contest.
With Shaq, Reebok clearly scored a coup. Shaq has rapidly become an NBA superstar and an engaging corporate spokesman, with special appeal to sneaker-buying youth. He is attractively self-effacing--"He's Superman; I'm just Superboy," he declared while his Orlando Magic took on Jordan's Bulls in this spring's NBA playoffs--and he's developing multiple public personalities. He's Shaq Daddy and Shaq Fu in the hip-hop world, and he has shown natural ease as a film actor. Says James Mullen: "This man represents the social environment of right now. He's tough but not nasty, the spokesman of the next generation."
Most important for Reebok, Shaq provides high-profile credibility with under-18 males, many of whom have long been fanatic Nike Boys. This crowd, which accounts for about one-quarter of all athletic-footwear sales in the U.S., is particularly brand-conscious and needs a strong nudge to switch allegiances. Shaq's charisma gives Reebok a state-of-the-art weapon in this crucial marketing battle for the first time. Says Fireman: "Nobody holds all the cards at any given time, and that's what makes the game so much fun."
THE SWOOSH TATTOO
The buzz around Barcelona was that Jordan, Barkley, and other Nike members of the 1992 U.S. Olympic basketball team were not happy. The Dream Team had cruised to the championship as expected, and now the whole world would be watching as this historic assemblage of basketball talent collected their gold medals. The problem was, Reebok had paid for the privilege of designing the warm-up suits to be used at the ceremony. When the big moment came, Jordan and Barkley draped American flags over their shoulders and the other Nike Guys rolled back their collars to obscure Reebok logos. "It was a disgrace to the Olympics and to America," says Fireman. Says Knight: "That moment was by no means orchestrated from headquarters, but I thought it was great."
This spring, Phil Knight finally put his leg where his mouth has been. Several years ago he had started hiring eager young men and women to serve as frontline liaisons with retailers. These so-called Ekins--yes, it's Nike spelled backward--would explain the functions of new products, check on store displays, and generally spread the Nike gospel to store managers and clerks. The job attracted a particularly aggressive and loyal group, most of them in their 20s, and at some point a lot of Ekins began getting themselves tattooed with the company logo. Most put the Swoosh on their calf or ankle, though some favored the shoulder. A few Ekins chose the inner thigh, near the groin, so that the Swoosh appears with each stride when they run.
For years Knight told anyone who would listen how proud he was that employees thought so much of their company. But he never went to the tattoo parlor himself, a fact that Ekins often reminded him of when they ran into him on campus. Knight restored his credibility this spring, and a discreet Swoosh now appears on his left calf.
Knight's move has not set off any mass tattooing trend at Nike, and by no means do all employees show the Ekins' fanatic devotion to the corporation. But a level of commitment unusual for a big U.S. company does seem palpable at Nike's famous, 74-acre corporate campus, which has woods, running trails, an artificial lake, manicured soccer fields, and a space-age fitness center. It seems a world apart, and that's the way Knight likes it. In spirit, at least, he modeled his elaborate headquarters complex after the gleaming edifices he had seen in Tokyo. "There is no more chaotic city in the world, but people can rely on coming home to a sense of peace at work," he says.
About 41% of Nike employees are under 30, and many of them appear remarkably fit and clear-eyed as they quickstep along lakeside paths from building to building. A two-hour workout at the Bo Jackson Sports and Fitness Center on campus at midday, followed by work long into the night, is often the order of the day. To compensate for their relentless schedules, Nike employees often seem focused on the fact that they work for the big winner in one of the sexier businesses around. "I think anyone would like to work here--the people are just great," says one young female package designer as she hustles by, clutching a fistful of drawings. For Nike advertising director Joe McCarthy, who joined up last year after a long agency career on the East Coast, the essence of the Nike experience is authenticity. "I have always felt that people here really get it," he says. "They know what is real, whether it's designing a product, distributing it, or marketing it. There's just no bullshit."
Not all new arrivals are as sanguine about the experience. If there is a dark side to Knight's fixation on deep corporate loyalty, it centers on the fact that anyone "outside the berm"--a reference to the dirt mound that surrounds the Nike campus--is often by definition suspect. The system can be rough as well on longtime employees who resign to work elsewhere; they usually fall quickly into the category of nonperson. Knight has been known to dismiss top executives who quit on him with a limp handshake and a mumbled goodbye--even if the person was once a close friend.
Yet the power of Nike's intense culture is undeniable. Knight's methods so influence his entire industry that employees at Ree bok, itself a major corporation, define their own culture in large part according to its differences from Nike. Reebok executives repeat like some sort of mantra that theirs is a kinder, gentler way, and the boss echoes the refrain. "I think Nike is more of a cult, where people have to give up their individuality," says Fireman. "I want people here to have a balanced life, one that works on various levels."
Though Fireman is contemplating construction of a new facility, he now makes do with a cramped, six-story building in an industrial park south of Boston. Reebok employees are mostly young, and they appear no less clear-eyed and fit than those at Nike. The building's gym is in constant use, and an outdoor basketball court is fully populated during warmer weather. What's missing is the signs of deep commitment, the spontaneous declarations of corporate devotion. No one has thought to tattoo himself with the Reebok logo.
One reason may be the continual executive scuffles that have marked Fireman's reign as Reebok chairman. The company has long been a revolving door for top and mid-level managers; co-presidents Roberto Muller and John Duerden resigned just this spring. Ex-Reebokers say much of the trouble stems from Fireman's inability to delegate. Says a former top Reebok manager, who was recruited heavily and lasted less than a year: "Paul is the sort of fellow who would make a great neighbor; you would gladly lend him your chain saw. But he is absolutely convinced that no one can do a job better than he can."
Muddying the waters further is Fireman's interest in est, the human-potential program founded by Werner Erhard that drew thousands of devotees in the 1970s. The Reebok chief is outspoken in his admiration for est training--"I believe in anything that allows you to look at yourself and see what's possible," he says. He continues to recommend that his managers take part in a recent derivation of the training called the Forum. The problem, say former Reebok executives, is that the company sometimes divides up between those who buy into the est message and those who don't. Key employees, even top managers, at times seem to be kept out of the loop, denied crucial new research or excluded from strategy meetings unless they accept the est outlook and methods. Fervent est adherents, meanwhile, form a sort of subculture with its own attitudes and jargon. Says one former Reebok manager: "Certain people are always going around saying stuff like 'I need some coaching on that.' "
UNCLE CHARLIE AND THE ZEN HIT MAN
Phil Knight and Paul Fireman have met face to face only once, during the 1993 U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York. They were seated near each other and ended up chatting amiably for 15 minutes or so. Afterward, one of Knight's colleagues, pointing out that a major breakthrough in Middle East peace talks had just occurred, speculated that some sort of harmonic convergence must have been taking place on the planet that week. First, Yasir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin sat down together, then Knight and Fireman.
Ask Paul Fireman about his competition with Nike, and he'll accentuate the positive. Look at the great strides companies have made when they go mano a mano with a strong rival, he says. Look at Ford and GM, Pepsi and Coke, McDonald's and Burger King. "Anytime you have competition like that, you spark ingenuity and creativity," he says. "You reach for something more within your organization."
Ask Phil Knight the same question, and he gets personal. He has several times declared his hatred for Fireman and for Reebok at sales rallies. Says Knight: "I want my people to believe that whenever he and our other competitors succeed, we will be less able to do all the things we want to do." He talks about the time Georgetown University basketball coach John Thompson called him to turn down an invitation to a junket with a bunch of other college coaches affiliated with Nike. These are people I dream about beating up on, said Thompson, and I sure don't want to get friendly with them. "That's exactly how I feel," says Knight. "I may be over the top on this, but I just don't want to like my competitors."
Fireman fires back freely: "At the end of a contest, I'd shake hands and walk away. I think he would throw a shovel of dirt on the grave." But he seems genuinely baffled by Knight's personal hostility.
"That's all right," says Knight. "I don't understand him either." Differences in personal style may be at the heart of this failure to communicate. Both men are brilliant, driven entrepreneurs who have become immensely rich very quickly. Knight's Nike shares have made him a billionaire; Fireman, whose Ree bok stock and options alone are worth about $250 million, owns his own golf course on Cape Cod. But wealth and ambition are just about the only personal traits they share.
Knight, 57, is a slight, even gaunt fellow, with weathered cheeks, pale-blue eyes, unruly blond-gray hair, and a trimmed beard. He takes his shoes off, Japanese style, when he enters his office, and he meticulously cultivates an air of mystery about himself. He receives all visitors in a conference room; hardly anyone is invited into his outer office, and practically no one is permitted into his inner sanctum beyond. His imagery comes from the playing field, tinged by things Asian. "Play by the rules, but be ferocious," he says. Or: "It's all right to be Goliath, but always act like David." He still runs 20 miles a week, and he favors wraparound sunglasses and loose-cut European suits. He looks like an aging rock & roller or some Quentin Tarantino character, a Zen hit man.
Fireman, 51, is a chubby, rumpled man of average height, with a broad, unlined face and a high forehead. He works, most days, in shirtsleeves, tieless, and his office door is wide open, revealing a comfortable clutter of advertising storyboards and framed magazine covers he hasn't gotten around to hanging. A size-22 shoe designed for Shaq sits in the middle of a conference table, a Brobdingnagian centerpiece. Fireman's conversation, mostly standard corporate-speak, reveals a middle-class Boston background. "That's a different paht of the picture," he says. "We're much more of a hahd-core sports company now." His game is golf, which he plays with a single-digit handicap. His unremarkable appearance and courtly manner bring to mind a high school history teacher. Or your Uncle Charlie, the one who nods off on the couch after Christmas dinner.
Knight rarely appears at an industry event if Fireman is scheduled to attend. "I don't think it's a coincidence," says the Reebok chief. So the personal rivalry plays out at long distance. Knight occasionally makes a move certain to annoy his counterpart, such as the moment prior to the 1994 Winter Olympics when figure skater Tonya Harding was accused in the knee bashing of rival Nancy Kerrigan, a Reebok athlete. Knight, arguing that Harding was being denied a fair hearing, donated $25,000 to her defense fund; Fireman was outraged. Both men take perverse delight in raiding each other's executive ranks from time to time. One will hire away a key marketer or financial whiz, then the other will respond in kind. Says Fireman: "The best way to fight terrorism is with counterterrorism."
THE NEXT BIG THING
It was all worked out. Sometime in the summer, Jerry Stackhouse, the slippery-quick University of North Carolina basketball star who was the No. 3 pick in the recent NBA draft, would step off a plane at Portland International Airport. A stretch limo would be there to whisk him to the Nike campus, and soon after the 20-year-old tyro settled into the back seat, someone would start up a tape on the little TV. Stackhouse would see clips of himself playing college ball, interspersed with action segments of Michael Jordan, Andre Agassi, Deion Sanders, and a half-dozen other Nike superstars. It would get him thinking about what it would be like to join such a luminous roster, to soften him up for the signing. The videotape ploy had worked with Michael Jordan, so it was clearly worth a try...
But it wasn't to be. Stackhouse signed up with Fila in August. Both Knight and Fireman are all too aware that their businesses, so dependent on the slender support beams of celebrity marketing and consumer fad, could be reduced to rubble with heart-stopping speed. They need look no further than the daily stock quotations to identify investors' continuing skittishness. Nike shares, despite the company's encouraging performance of late, have been selling at a relatively modest 18 times earnings; Reebok shares have been trading at a bargain-basement 12 times earnings. So both companies keep their fingers in the wind, alert to market shifts and new opportunities.
Both companies are tentatively diversifying. Knight has been dabbling in retail, building a chain of outsize, upscale outlets called Nike towns. They are designed partly as sports museums, with a video room in action all day and memorabilia spread around freely. Merchandise is displayed artfully on several floors, like stones in a Japanese garden. Four Nike towns have opened, in Portland, Chicago, Atlanta, and Orange County, California, and another is to open in midtown Manhattan next year. Knight plans to open eight to 11 more of the stores eventually.
Fireman is contemplating a major drive into the fitness-club business. He had earlier put Reebok's name on two elaborate clubs in Southern California, and this year he opened a 140,000-square-foot complex in Manhattan, with an oversize pool, two basketball courts, an outdoor running track, and every digitized exercise machine known to man. Reebok has also become increasingly involved with video, producing exercise programs for cable channels and short educational films for schools.
Women's sports are hot, and they are likely to get hotter. Reebok's market research shows that about one of every 27 U.S. girls was actively engaged in sports in 1971; today about one in three American girls is so engaged. To profit from the new sizzle surrounding women's team sports, especially basketball, both companies are gearing up the volume and variety of their women's product lines and signing high-profile endorsers. Nike signed former Texas Tech basketball superstar Sheryl Swoopes; Reebok snatched Rebecca Lobo, who this year led the University of Connecticut to the NCAA championship in the sport.
Nike gained a big edge last year in hockey, another booming sports category, by buying Canstar, the world's largest manufacturer of skates and hockey equipment, for $400 million. Both Nike and Reebok are chasing the fast-growing new market for hiking and outdoor gear. Both keep an eye on whatever pursuits the under-18 crowd considers the latest rage--in-line skating, wall climbing, street hockey.
The heaviest action will probably be outside the U.S. over the next few years. Reebok already makes half its sales overseas, Nike sells about 40% of its goods abroad, and both are tantalized by future prospects. The overseas market for athletic footwear alone, not counting apparel, is about $6 billion to $7 billion annually. "That's where the feet are," says Knight.
Hegemony in the soccer world, long controlled largely by Adidas, is the biggest international prize--"It's the ground upon which the global market-share battle will be fought," says Reebok senior vice president Peter Moore. His company has been chipping away at Adidas for several years, sponsoring high-profile teams in top European pro leagues and signing global superstars like Ryan Giggs and Jurgen Klinsmann to exclusive endorsement contracts. One measure of Reebok's new presence in this crucial sport: In the 1994 World Cup, which attracted over 30 billion TV viewers around the globe, about one in five goals was scored by a player wearing Reebok shoes.
Nike has jumped into the soccer fray more recently, but it is already shaking up the sport. The company has put together a lineup of superstar endorsers sure to make soccer-mad fans drool-Italian heartthrob Paolo Maldini, German ace Andreas Moller, British legend Ian Wright, and ten members of the World Cup champion Brazilian national team. Last spring Nike used its financial and marketing muscle to gain sponsorship of the men's and women's U.S. national teams, outbidding Adidas and Reebok. On top of that, Knight's company wrested the Italian national team, always one of the top two or three squads in the world, away from its previous sponsor, Diadora, based in Treviso, Italy.
The stakes are as high as they get, says Hank Steinbrecher, president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, who points out that some 300 million people play the game worldwide. "Basically you cannot be considered a serious global sports company unless you are serious about soccer," he says. Adidas remains on top in soccer shoes and apparel for the moment, with about 70% of the global market, but there are clearly a couple of new sheriffs in town.
Fireman is especially keen on finding a place in minor sports overseas as well. The idea, he says, is to identify the sport that has an emotional hold on a particular country--handball in Denmark, cricket in Great Britain, baseball in Japan--and then bore in. For both companies that means setting up distribution networks, exploring local tastes--the English prefer white cricket shoes only, the Japanese like ultralight running shoes--and then marketing like mad. Each company's global advertising and endorsement budget reportedly is well over $200 million, and their efforts to export their sort of brand awareness are hitting home. In a memorable Nike TV spot for Australian football, one of the more brutal competitions on the planet, a bloodied, mock-sincere player declares: "I'm not willing to say I would die for my team, but I would be willing to go into an extended coma."
Knight frets that the operating formula that has so enriched his enterprise could falter before long. Product development, manufacturing, distribution--all those pieces of the puzzle seem rock solid. But the marketing power of sports celebrity is no longer a secret. Jocks are selling everything from pizzas to Cadillacs these days. Jordan pitches Hanes underwear, Gatorade, and Big Macs; Shaq belongs to Pepsi. Knight has tried to get some control over Nike athletes by signing them to full-scale management contracts. Nike now negotiates all team contracts and endorsement deals for such stars as Deion Sanders and Charlotte Hornets center Alonzo Mourning. But both Nike and Reebok may have more trouble getting their messages across in the future, because so many advertisers are trotting out sports heroes and playing on the emotions of the athletic field.
Sometimes it seems as if there are Fifty Cool Guys out there--smirking at the camera, reciting their lines, pushing product as hard as they can. It is a very short step from over exposed to uncool.