Fila, Stackhouse reach 5-year deal

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Fila USA said yesterday it has a tentative, five-year deal with former University of North Carolina basketball star Jerry Stackhouse to endorse sneakers and athletic clothing, winning out over industry rivals Nike Inc., Reebok International Ltd. and .. Converse Inc.

"We got him [Wednesday] night," said Howe Burch, vice president for advertising at Hunt Valley-based Fila USA, which accounts for more than 60 percent of its Italian parent company's sales. "What we have right now is a letter of agreement, pending completion of a formal contract."

The Stackhouse deal marks the third straight year that Fila has signed one of the top four picks in the National Basketball Association draft. Mr. Stackhouse was chosen by the Philadelphia 76ers with the third pick of this year's draft.

"It will become Filadelphia now," Mr. Burch said.

Terms were not disclosed, but sources indicated that the deal is larger than the $7.5 million, five-year deal that Fila reached with Dallas Mavericks forward Jamal Mashburn, the No. 4 pick in the 1993 draft.

Mr. Stackhouse's agent, Lee Fentress, said his client chose Fila because the company plans to follow last year's launch of Detroit Piston rookie forward Grant Hill's basketball shoe with similarly heavy promotion of Mr. Stackhouse and his line of products, including a signature shoe next winter. Mr. Fentress -- said other factors in the signing were the company's rapid growth and its clothing lines outside the sporting goods sector.

"Everything [at Fila] is on the upswing," Mr. Fentress said. "They really made Jerry feel he was going to be important."

"I think Fila got him because they offered more money than anyone else," Nike spokesman Tom Feuer said.

Part of Mr. Stackhouse's appeal is because he "does his talking on the court," Mr. Burch noted a few weeks before the signing.

The Stackhouse deal allows Fila to continue its drive to branch out from inner-city markets, where its sales of basketball shoes and clothes have traditionally been very strong, into urban and suburban markets, where it hopes to increase sales of basketball shoes as well as products such as cross-trainers, athletic apparel and casual sportswear.

Fila's recent endorsers played in high-profile college programs -- Mr. Stackhouse at UNC, Mr. Hill at Duke and Mr. Mashburn at Kentucky -- and have friendly public personae that the company can contrast with Nike's rougher-edged endorsers, such as Charles Barkley, Jason Kidd and Dennis Rodman.

Mr. Hill's signature shoe, introduced in March amid a blizzard of promotion, was the biggest initial hit among new products in the industry since the Air Jordan in 1984. Athletic-shoe chains, Fila's biggest wholesale customers, said it was doing as well in suburban markets as in cities. A new Hill shoe is due this fall.

The initial Hill shoe and the fast-growing apparel division helped Fila's Italian parent boost sales more than 45 percent in the first half of this year. Mr. Burch has said analysts believe U.S. sales will top $500 million this year, up from less than $60 million five years ago.

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