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Fila Drafts Murray For Race Against Nike and Griffey

May 14, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ Fila has been making great strides in recent years in the U.S. sneaker market with help from advertising that featured rising pro basketball stars Grant Hill, Jerry Stackhouse and Jamal Mashburn.

But the sports shoe and apparel marketer is counting on an aging baseball slugger, Eddie Murray, this spring to keep its market share growing.

Murray, considered by many to be a sure bet for eventual selection for baseball’s Hall of Fame, is appearing in two Fila ads _ his first national ads in a career that has spanned nearly two decades.

One shows his practice routine. The other is a takeoff on industry leader Nike Inc.’s ongoing campaign fancifully promoting young Seattle Mariners outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. for president.

In the second ad, Fila tosses Murray’s name into the presidential race, favorably comparing the Cleveland Indians designated hitter with Griffey, the most celebrated of the new generation of major league ballplayers.

The Fila ad notes that when Murray was putting on his first big league uniform in 1977, Griffey was wearing ``jammies.″

Murray stays in character in his ads, never saying a word. He generally refuses to talk to the media, breaking his silence only when he passed the 3,000-hit milestone last year.

``That’s what intrigued us _ he is a man of few words, whose actions speak louder than his words,″ said Mark Westerman, director of advertising and communication for Fila USA, based in Hunstville, Md., near Baltimore where Murray spent most of his career playing first base for the Orioles.

``We try to leverage our athletes’ personalities and accomplishments in our ads. To have Eddie Murray talk would be counter to what he is known for,″ Westerman said.

This is Murray’s second year under contract with Fila after several years at Nike. Diane Hock, an attorney who represents Murray on marketing issues, said he didn’t make the move to get commercial exposure.

``They sold him on the idea. In the past when people wanted him, they wanted to change Eddie to fit the product,″ she said.

Westerman said Fila decided to make the Murray-for-president ad after the Nike ads touting Griffey’s fictional candidacy debuted in February.

Fila moved into third place in the U.S. athletic footwear market last year, jumping from seventh place in 1994 and ahead of such well-known brands names as Adidas, Keds, LA Gear and Converse, according to estimates by the newsletter Sporting Goods Intelligence.

Publisher John Horan said Fila had 5.56 percent of the $6.8 billion wholesale sneaker market in 1995, up from 4.45 percent a year earlier.

That still left Fila a long way behind Nike and Reebok, the industry leaders with an estimated 36.98 percent and 20.40 percent of the market respectively, Horan said.

But Fila’s gain of 1.1 percentage points of the market was one of the industry’s biggest year-to-year advances. Nike added 6.1 share points last year while Reebok lost 1.1 share points, the newsletter said.

Rivals say the Fila baseball ads are ironic because Fila doesn’t market cleated baseball shoes.

Fila makes baseball shoes specifically for Murray and a few other players but Westerman conceded Fila has no plans to introduce a baseball line.

Nonetheless, the Murray-for-president commercials are drawing attention for the brand, and should benefit from the continuing Nike-Griffey ad campaign and the real presidential election season.

Westerman said Fila is planning to spend less than $1 million on the Murray-for-president ad, and is running it only in markets where the Cleveland Indians are playing. But he said Fila may run the commercial on ESPN, the cable network that carries at least three major league baseball games a week across the nation.

At Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., they are taking Fila’s ads philosophically. ``Like any election, there will be competition,″ said Nike spokeswoman Robin Carr-Locke. ``It’s all in fun.″

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