Sunday, July 18, 1999

Sports bras on verge of faddism


Nike will reap victor's spoils

BY MELANIE WELLS and ANN OLDENBURG
USA TODAY

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Brandi Chastain.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
        NEW YORK — When Brandi Chastain shed her jersey after her World Cup-winning kick last weekend, she showed the United States that she had more than its support.

        Ms. Chastain was one of 10 women on the U.S. team fitted with Nike's new Inner Active sports bra.

        Marketing experts say the exposure is a boon to Nike, which plans to start selling the $40 bra in stores July 25. Ms. Chastain's exuberant move — she exposed her black sports bra when she yanked off her shirt in triumph — also might end up being a lucrative one for the athlete.

        Nike says it might tap Ms. Chastain for promotional appearances or advertising for its high-end bra.

        “She has definitely opened the door for a lot of possibilities,” said Dean Stoyer, Nike spokesman.

BORGMAN CARTOON cartoon
        The company already is looking into buying the rights to use some of the photos taken of Ms. Chastain's shirt-ripping moment — which Ms. Chastain maintains was simply a gesture of “momentary insanity.”

        “It's a moment in sports that will always be etched in our minds,” corporate identity expert Allen Adamson of Landor Associates said. “That 10-second piece of film is all Nike needs to sell more bras than it can produce.”

        Added sports marketing consultant Darcy Bouzeos: “Look at the buzz about this sports bra; you couldn't have orchestrated more attention.”

        Nike says sports bras, which were developed in the 1970s, are now a $500 million-a-year market.

        Ms. Chastain, who is assistant soccer coach at Santa Clara University, actually served on an advisory committee of athletes who gave Nike feedback about its bra during its development. She and some of her teammates were fitted with their own in May.

        Nike says Ms. Chastain wasn't paid for the advisory role and won't receive money for the exposure she gave the product, even though some athletes receive extra compensation from marketers for special, high-profile publicity.

        “Are we going to give her a thank-you check? No,” Mr. Stoyer said. “I think it's great that she got all this attention. But there's no plan to give her any additional compensation from what she has already received under her contract.”

        These are moments that define Nike, which has personal contracts with six members of the team, including Ms. Chastain and co-captain Mia Hamm. It outfits the team with cleats, socks, shorts and jerseys.

        “This fits right in with Nike's marketing strategy,” advertising executive Michael Dweck said. “What Chastain did said, "I am woman; hear me roar,' and that's the image Nike wants its athletes to have.

        “Chastain's not a prissy girl. Nike wants to be affiliated with athletes that push to be the very best at their sport.”

        Tommy Cane, director of marketing at Nike, says the company has seen sales of soccer apparel increase 75 percent this year compared with 1998. The company is expected to promote the women's team through next year, when it will compete in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.

        “There's an opportunity for this team to do a lot of good over the next year,” Mr. Cane said.

        Some people say Ms. Chastain's move was gratuitously provocative. Some of that reaction might be because she recently appeared nude, except for cleats and a strategically placed soccer ball, in Gear magazine.

        Nike says its Inner Active sports bra, which also will be sold in gray and light yellow and features a discreet “swoosh” symbol above the left breast, is designed as outerwear.

        Some soccer parents fret that their daughters might emulate Ms. Chastain.

        “I overheard a father in the elevator when we were leaving the press box saying, "Now I've got to worry about my daughter jerking her jersey off when she scores a goal,'” said Dick Wilson, national executive director of the American Youth Soccer Organization.

        Actually, Ms. Chastain's move, as well as a similar gesture by Norwegian player Linda Medalen earlier in the tournament, mimicked one that's popular among male soccer players, who often rip off their shirts after a winning move.

        “Men do it all the time,” said Roger Rogers, editor of Women's Soccer World Magazine. “It wasn't as though (Chastain) didn't have a bra on. It certainly would be discriminating to suggest a woman can't do it if a man does.”

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