Fila, Webber sign endorsement deal Sparks-based firm also plans to expand its retail business

March 25, 1997|By Timothy J. Mullaney and Liz Bowie | Timothy J. Mullaney and Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

Fila USA and Washington Bullets forward Chris Webber have reached a three-year endorsement deal, Sparks-based Fila said yesterday, after Webber bolted from arch-competitor Nike while criticizing the shoe giant for targeting expensive shoes to poor inner-city communities.

Fila also said yesterday that it is expanding its retail business, a much smaller part of its sales than wholesale relationships with chains such as Foot Locker. The company plans to add eight to 10 new stores in outlet-center malls this year to the 33 it already has, and to double the number of its FilaSport boutiques to 10.

Terms of the deal with Webber were not disclosed, though the player said part of the deal includes royalties on sales of clothes and shoes he endorses.

Fila said it will launch a low-top Webber shoe and lines of both workout clothing and casual wear by next year.

"We have four [selling] seasons for basketball shoes, and we wanted another guy for the summer and back-to-school season," Fila advertising and communications director Mark Westerman said. "Where else can you get a guy who is A) young, and B) an NBA All-Star?"

Webber becomes Fila's third "marquee" basketball endorser, Westerman said, joining Detroit Pistons forward Grant Hill and Philadelphia 76ers guard Jerry Stackhouse. Like those two, Webber has been well known since entering the league because he played in a high-profile college program, but he is a departure for Fila, which has preferred to sign smaller players whose games are based on speed -- believing their styles highlighted the shoes more -- while Webber is a power forward.

"Chris has sold product before," Westerman said, referring to Webber's signature Nike line. "He can bring the ball upcourt, and he's a strong assist man."

Webber had sold that product for Nike, but left the Oregon company last year.

After leaving, he spoke out against Nike's prices -- his own shoe retailed for up to $140 a pair -- and played a number of games in Converse shoes while shopping himself for a new deal.

"One problem I had was that they were selling shoes to kids for $130 and [kids] in the neighborhood were robbing each other and stealing shoes," Webber said last fall. "So I had a problem with that, and I had to voice it."

Webber's initial Fila shoe will sell for $85 to $90.

Yesterday, Webber said he had spoken to Nike about renewing the deal but had settled on Fila because of his friendship with Stackhouse; the local ties of Fila, whose parent company is based in Italy; and because company executives made him feel comfortable.

"This is the place I wanted to be," Webber said. "Being TC Baltimore-based company, they have pressure to put back into the community as much as I do."

Webber said he and Fila will be designing efforts such as scholarship programs, camps and recreation center programs in which youngsters get Fila merchandise as an incentive for good academic performance and conduct.

Meanwhile, Donna Sexton, senior vice president, general manager of retail for Fila, said the company would shortly be opening several outlet stores in Indiana, Connecticut and Massachusetts. She is currently looking at areas across the country.

The retail outlets are helpful in selling excess inventory, Sexton said, adding that the company also plans to add eight to 10 stores in 1998.

"The average store returns half a million in revenues a year," said Alan Millstein, publisher of Fashion Network Report, a newsletter for the retailer industry. "So the expansion might add $7 [million] to $10 million a year." Fila had almost $1.4 billion in revenue last year.

Pub Date: 3/25/97

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