Darren Rovell

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Friday, March 1
Nike launches new campaign behind Carter

By Darren Rovell

When Vince Carter signed a contract extension through the 2007-08 season with the Toronto Raptors last August, some sports marketing analysts shook their heads. If Vince wanted to be a high-profile athlete endorser, they said, he'd have to play in the United States.

On Saturday, shoe giant Nike begins a large-scale campaign to prove those naysayers wrong. One month after Carter re-signed with the Raptors, Nike signed the forward to a multi-year deal reportedly worth $15.5 million. Carter's Nike Shox VC, which sell for $160 a pair, hit stores Saturday.

"We're using Vince more than any other Nike basketball player that has had their own shoe, with the exception of Michael Jordan," said Eric Oberman, Nike basketball spokesman. "Not only does he demand a signature shoe, but we're ready to build a franchise around him."

Vince Carter logo
Vince Carter joins Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods as Nike sports icons with signature logos.
The shoe's sole and tongue will feature Carterís new logo, which figures to be affixed to everything from apparel to sunglasses in the near future.

The Shox VC is Carter's second signature shoe. Carter signed a 10-year contract with Puma as a rookie, and the company produced "The Vinsanity." But Carter said the shoes hurt his feet and terminated his contract after his rookie season. Nike reportedly paid Puma $13.5 million in damages on Carter's behalf.

Nike has a lot of confidence in Carter's appeal. Several Nike basketball representatives reaffirmed the apparent mass appeal of Carter -- who has been the top vote-getter in the NBA All-Star Game the past three years -- by traveling to New York City to ask young kids what they wanted to see next. "Ninety-eight percent of them wanted to know what was next with Vince," Oberman said.

Playing in Canada certainly hasn't hurt Carter's overall endorsement income, which is easily in the top five among NBA players. Besides Nike, Vince's deals include Gatorade, Bell Canada, Cadbury, Wilson, Fleer, Dave & Buster's, and Nerf. Carter also was featured on the cover of "NBA Drive 2002," the Xbox game that hit stores Jan. 29.

The Nike Shox VC

Nike will make more Nike Shox VC shoes than any other basketball shoe this year, according to Nike basketball spokesman Eric Oberman. The shoe has Nike's patented Shox technology in the heel, but also has -- for the first time -- 15 Shox columns in the forefoot. It also features a mesh outer skin that zips over the laces and Vince Carter's signature on the pull-straps.

To support the campaign, Nike will launch 30- and 60-second commercials this weekend. The spot is set in historic Rucker Park in Harlem in the mid-1970s. As two teams battle it out, Carter enters as "Dr. Funk," one team's secret weapon and the only player dressed in 2002 style, wearing his Nike Shox VCs.

Carter hits a shot, blocks a shot by pinning it against the backboard, and finishes with a windmill jam.

"These aren't barter deals," said his agent, Mark Steinberg, who is actively looking for a car company to add to his client's roster. "These are very substantial."

"Nike, over the past two decades, has established itself as the sports marketing leader," Steinberg said. "So for them to feel like Vince is the guy to be a lead spokesman for their basketball business is a great honor and testament to how highly they think of him."

While his location in Canada has undoubtedly helped him get deals such as Bell Canada and Cadbury (Carter is featured on the company's "Mr. Big" chocolate bars), some still say winning the battle against Kobe Bryant and adidas for the 16- to 24-year-old American youth might be difficult by virtue of less exposure in the United States.

"I don't think it's going to turn out as well as they hoped," said Bob Williams, president of Burns Sports, a company that matches athletes with advertisers. "Most of the successful endorsers in the NBA have played in the largest markets, like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. If anything, it's certainly the first real legitimate test of the market as far as Vince goes."

Then there's the "winning-team theory," in which market size and location are overcome by a team's performance and the exposure its players gain from it. That's why Carter's impact could be dulled if his Raptors fail to make the playoffs. Heading into a Friday home game against Portland, the team had lost nine straight games and was clinging to the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Nevertheless, some sports stars are big enough to overcome all obstacles.

"There is no doubt that Vince Carter is one of the most powerful sports personalities," said Scott Becher, president of Sports & Sponsorships, a sports marketing firm. "Because of that, where he lives and where he works is a moot point."

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.Rovell@espn.com.

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