By  on December 21, 2000

NEW YORK -- Women's merchandise represents a "great opportunity" in the new multi-million-dollar 10-year joint venture Reebok International inked with the National Football League, Paul Fireman, president and chief executive officer, said Tuesday.

As of the 2002 season, Reebok will have its trademark on all 32 professional football teams' uniforms and equipment, and the nearly $3 billion sneaker giant will develop and market licensed NFL apparel and merchandise for women, men and children.

During the 2001 season, Reebok will outfit 20 teams and offer NFL and team apparel at retail.

During a conference call Tuesday Fireman said the company will focus on improving quality and offering more stylish items. He pinpointed the potential for the women's business, and said that many women are NFL fans and the women's category as a whole is a priority for Reebok.

Women account for about 40 percent of the NFL's viewers and 46 percent of all NFL licensed purchases, a NFL spokesman said.

"We have to start to bring them into the fold of knowing that the NFL stands for a brand that brings technology, new materials and state of the art fashion and design in fitness and in preparation," Fireman said.

Reebok plans to introduce licensed NFL fitness wear for women and men, and exercise equipment, Fireman said. As part of the partnership, the NFL will have the right to option an equity position in the new business, an NFL spokesman said.

"The women's business is something we are quite versed in. It really emulates out of a focus on fitness," Fireman said.

What Reebok needs to address is that it is not enough to develop NFL apparel that women will wear solely because it is a replica look, he said.

Highlighting the league's branding potential, Fireman said, "The NFL is not simply a sports league."

The NFL's annual merchandise generates about $3 billion in annual sales, with apparel accounting for about 60 percent of that figure.

Through its new partnership, Reebok is expected to account for about 50 percent of the NFL's total apparel sales, according to a NFL spokesman.Reebok is expected to pay about $250 million in annual royalties to the NFL, industry sources said. Last year sales of NFL licensed merchandise were $3 billion.

In other Reebok news, tennis star Venus Williams and chief marketing officer Angel Martinez will be at the Reebok Sports Club Thursday morning to announce her renewed contract. She reportedly has inked a five-year, $40 million endorsement deal -- the largest ever awarded to a female athlete.

They will also spell out how this year's U.S. Open champion will help the brand with design, product development and advertising.

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