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Michael Jackson Can't Sell His Sole : Shoes: L.A. Gear hoped the singer's buckle-laden footwear would rescue a slow year. But the sneakers are no big hit.

September 12, 1990|BRUCE HOROVITZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Maybe executives at L.A. Gear should have paid more attention to the title of Michael Jackson's last hit song--"Bad." That pretty much sums up the sales picture of L.A. Gear's much-ballyhooed new line of Michael Jackson shoes.

Many retailers in Southern California report abysmal sales of the "MJ" line during a sales period that should have been one of the biggest of all--back to school. But with many millions of dollars now being spent to advertise and promote the shoes, which cost up to $79, several retailers said they will not be able to mark down the prices until after Christmas.

"We haven't sold a single pair," said Keith Ellison, co-manager at Broadway's women's shoe department at Beverly Center, which has stocked the shoes for about two weeks. Likewise, the women's shoe department at Nordstrom in the Westside Pavilion has struggled to sell even a few pair.

"No one is asking for them," said the manager of the East Los Angeles sporting goods store Athletic Shoe World, who would identify himself only as Joe. "Sales are non-existent."

"They're not exactly blowing out of the store," said Ed Moore, manager of the Foot Locker shoe store at Westminster Mall. Moore said the store sells only a few pairs of the MJ line of men's shoes each week. "This is nothing like the sales of our (Nike) Air Jordan's or (Reebok) Pumps."

Of course, while the more expensive Air Jordan and Pump models are primarily basketball performance shoes, the "MJ" line, which Jackson himself helped design, is heavily fashion-oriented. But athletic shoe industry observers say the designs of certain models of the sneakers--which are ladened with buckles--have turned off some parents who refuse to buy them for their kids.

"I keep asking myself, what parents would want their children to wear these?" said John Horan, publisher of the Glen Mills, Pa.-based industry newsletter, Sporting Goods Intelligence. "Kids look like junior Hell's Angels in them."

Perhaps the best hope for improved sales of the MJ line is overseas. "The only place Michael Jackson is still a big name is in Japan--and to some extent in Europe," said Horan. "He's just not a big pull in the United States."

Indeed, it is Japanese and Australian tourists who are buying most of the MJ line shoes at the Foot Locker store downtown at the Seventh Street Marketplace, said Tim Arnwine, manager of the store.

"But we're not running out of them," said Arnwine. "Eventually, we may have to mark some of them down."

For Jackson, who was guaranteed an estimated $9 million over the first two years of the contract, there is little worry. But for L.A. Gear--whose executives declined to comment--there must be great concern. The company's second-quarter profits fell 36% compared to the same period one year ago. Executives had high hopes that the "MJ" line would help turn things around for the second half of 1990.

That's not likely now. Horan predicts that L.A. Gear will lose money on the MJ line. And one Wall Street analyst isn't so sure that the line will be around for very long. "When the contract (with Jackson) is up, I'm not so sure it will be renewed," said Heidi R. Steinberg, a retail analyst at the New York investment firm Salomon Bros.

The contract already is in its second year--although the first commercial didn't break until last month.

In the 30-second commercial, which the company has said cost $700,000 to produce, Jackson seems to electrically charge a dark alley just by walking down it. After he points at a street lamp and causes it to explode, a young girl observing from an apartment window applauds.

The ad has no music, but it does feature Jackson wearing a pair of the shoes. It is the only L.A. Gear commercial that Jackson has filmed to date.

L.A. Gear executives had hoped to break the campaign along with the release of Jackson's long-delayed greatest-hits album. But some recording industry executives now doubt that the album will be released in 1990.

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