Fila Takes A Shot With Hill

August 17, 1994|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,Sun Staff Writer

Fila USA said yesterday that it has landed Duke University basketball star Grant Hill as a new celebrity spokesman, a move the Hunt Valley-based sneaker and apparel company hopes will broaden its products' appeal in the suburbs.

The company will make a formal announcement of the deal this morning in Detroit, where Mr. Hill will play professional basketball for the Pistons. The team chose Mr. Hill with the third pick in this year's National Basketball Association draft.

The deal is the second in as many years that Fila has made with a player chosen with one of the top four picks in the NBA draft -- No. 4 pick Jamal Mashburn, a Dallas Mavericks forward, joined Fila last year.

The terms of the Hill deal were not disclosed. Fila said it was a five-year, "multi-million-dollar endorsement contract." The company will introduce a signature Grant Hill line of shoes and pTC clothes in the first quarter of 1995 and back it up with national ad campaigns beginning next spring.

The line proposed for Mr. Hill is much broader than Mr. Mashburn's. On top of a basketball shoe, there will be Grant Hill cross-training shoes, outdoor and casual shoes and a Grant Hill clothing line. Part of the pay package will be royalties on Mr. Hill's product lines.

Fila USA Marketing Director Howe Burch said the company wooed Mr. Hill by telling him he would be the star of its marketing campaigns, rather than just a role player.

Several days after Mr. Hill visited Fila, a presentation board was still hanging in the lobby of the company's headquarters. Under the word "Nike" were the names of about 20 players with endorsement deals with the sneaker industry's leader, ranging from Mr. Jordan and Charles Barkley to lesser stars like Phoenix Suns guard Dan Majerle.

On the Fila side of the board, there was only "Grant."

A plus for Fila is that Mr. Hill will play in Detroit, one of the company's strongest U.S. markets. Fila and Mr. Hill are jointly giving $120,000 today to a Grant Hill Summer Basketball League in Detroit, which will also offer tutoring in math, English and science.

That program may help cement brand loyalty to Fila among its core customer base in inner cities. But part of the reason for pursuing Mr. Hill was to help the company broaden its base into suburban markets, where the company's boldly designed products have not been as popular as they are in cities.

"Frankly, that was one of the reasons we went after Grant," Mr. Burch said.

"His appeal is as great in the suburbs as it is in the inner city."

Fila, which has the sixth-biggest market share of the U.S. sneaker market, hopes to climb to No. 3 by the end of the year. To do it, the company is trying to move beyond its image as a fashion-only shoe and establish itself as a "serious" shoe for athletes and older nonathletes.

The top two shoe companies, Nike Inc. and Reebok International Ltd., account for more than half the U.S. athletic shoe market.

Fila has 4 percent, quintupling its U.S. shoe sales after its Italian parent company repurchased the U.S. rights to the name from a licensee in 1991.

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