MAKERS CARRY A TORCH FOR ATLANTA

Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg, with contributions from Katherine Weisman, Paris

NEW YORK — The athletes will be going for the gold. Others will be going for the green.
With the spectacle of the Olympic Games almost guaranteed to produce a surge in the number of recreational athletes hitting gyms and playing fields, activewear makers are gearing up for extra business as an aftermath of the big show.
When the torch is lit in Atlanta on July 19, some 3,779 women will be among the competitors. That’s a 40 percent increase over the 1992 Games in Barcelona. What it means, say women’s sportswear and activewear makers, is that their products should get a real push from the coverage.
For most manufacturers, building brand awareness is the prime objective. That shouldn’t be a problem since more than two billion people in 170 countries should watch the competition on television each day.
The focus at retail from April through August will be on patriotic looks — red, white and blue themes are expected to be winners — and not necessarily on styles carrying this year’s Olympic insignia. That strategy, say activewear makers, should limit markdowns after the Games. “We’re not talking about doing millions of dollars in volume,” said Dave Chandler, vice president of apparel marketing for Reebok International. “Our whole objective is to enhance brand image.”
With retail prices ranging from $16 for a cotton T-shirt to $120 for a nylon microfiber warmup suit, Reebok’s six-piece line of Olympic-inspired apparel will be available in stores late next month.
Some 3,000 athletes in Atlanta — nearly 33 percent of all the competitors — will wear Reebok apparel or footwear, including members of the U.S. handball and gymnastics teams, Chandler said. The company is outfitting 47 teams, including those from such emerging nations as Moldova, Namibia and Tonga, countries where corporate sponsorships generally do not exist.
Each team’s apparel will carry different national colors, but the fabric patterns will be consistent, Chandler said.
And, for the first time, official Reebok Olympic apparel will carry the company’s graphic insignia — a vector — but not its name. The word “Reebok” will not be visible on any Olympic apparel.
Reebok is particularly enthusiastic about its exposure during the gymnastics coverage, which, according to Chandler, is one of the five most-watched Olympic events. The sport is popular with the girls and young women who are becoming more important customers for the brand.
As one of the official suppliers of the Games, Reebok expects to provide 56,000 pairs of shoes to employees and volunteers of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games and Atlanta Centennial Olympic Properties.
Arena North America is planning for a double-digit percentage rise in annual sales since the Olympics traditionally boosts participation in competitive swimming by at least 20 percent, said Warren Donder, national sales manager. Arena’s stroke-specific swimsuits wholesale from $60.
Unlike most Olympic attire, swimwear is classified as technical wear, which means the athletes may wear whatever brand they want to when they are actually in the pool competing. While waiting to compete, however, U.S. swimmers will wear Speedo Authentic Fitness warmups, T-shirts and baseball hats, and on the award platforms, U.S. medalists will wear Champion warmups.
U. S. Swimmer Angel Martino, who endorses Arena and is a favorite in the 100-meter butterfly and a strong contender in the 50-meter freestyle, has the potential to bolster the brand’s international exposure, Donder said.
For the first time, Nike will suit up Olympic swimmers Melanie Valerio and Alison Wagner, both of the U.S. The pair will be wearing Nike swimsuits made under license by Jantzen.
The U.S. women’s basketball team will be sporting Nike’s Air Rupt, a new style of red, white and blue basketball shoe. With a suggested retail price of $110, the product will be in stores in July.
Nike will also outfit the U.S. women’s teams for soccer and track and field with its Dry FIT high tech apparel. Replica $60 soccer jerseys and $30 shorts in a six-piece group will be available at retail beginning next month, a Nike spokesman said. Speedo is betting on its new Aquablade swimsuit to create some gold following the summer Games. The fabric used in Aquablade is a updated version of the one used for the Speedo’s S2000 suit, launched for the 1992 Barcelona Games, said Mark Hammersley, president of Speedo International. The base is a polyester microfiber with a thermal finish developed with Toray Industries. The fabric, which includes a water-repellent resin, helps cut water resistance and improves a swimmer’s speed.
The stripe-like patterns made by the resin should help identify the suits on TV, which will use underwater cameras. That, of course, should be a marketing plus for Speedo, which plans to provide swimwear for competitors from 45 countries.
Aquablade comes in such new shapes as the women’s leg suit, which resembles a unitard. Aquablade suits, which will retail for around $95, will be in stores about the time the Games begin.
Retailers planning Olympic-inspired promotions include Gart Sports, a 60-store operation based in Denver. There, red, white and blue apparel should increase business by at least 20 percent, said Ron Snyder, vice president and general merchandise manager.
As part of its plan to “dramatically increase the women’s business,” Gart will offer 10 percent more Olympic-inspired apparel for women than it did during the 1992 Summer Games. Swimwear gets “the best pop in sales” from the Olympics, with Speedo the leading brand, Snyder said.
To boost holiday sales last year, Herman’s World of Sporting Goods introduced Olympic apparel in October. Speedo Authentic Fitness and Champion Jogbras are bestsellers, said John Hoeffler, general merchandise manager.
Beginning late next month, Herman’s will devote 300 square feet of floor space near the entrance of its stores to merchandise patriotic- and Olympic-inspired looks. The apparel will be featured in advertising, point-of-purchase displays and on mannequins. Sales of Olympic merchandise, which is priced about 15 percent higher than branded apparel, should “absolutely” increase women’s apparel sales by a double-digit percentage, Hoeffler said.

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