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DATELINE: ST. PETERSBURG : If This Shoe Fit They Couldn't Wear It

July 24, 1994|RANDY HARVEY

When reporters returned to the media center from the Goodwill Games opening ceremony Saturday night, the giant inflatable sneaker that had been hanging from the ceiling was history.

Because I forgot to pack one of those sliding devices that shoe salesmen use to measure feet, it is difficult to report with any degree of accuracy the size of the sneaker. But it was bigger than Bob Lanier's.

I'd guess about a 72E.

But no matter how much amusement it brought to the media, the sneaker had to go. The problem was that it bore the symbol of a famous West Coast shoe company, while the Goodwill Games are sponsored by a famous East Coast shoe company.

I won't mention any brand names unless they pay me. Suffice it to say that when the sneaker was deflated, it made a swooshing sound.

The sound from the Russian organizers was more of a groan as they realized they had failed their first test in Sports Marketing 101. Even though they are new to capitalism, they had hoped to use the Goodwill Games to prove that they can be players in the billion dollar business of sports. That translates to about a jillion rubles.

But when the man who was commissioned to create the mother of all sneakers asked what brand, they forgot that they were sponsored by a shoe company--the same one that sponsors Russia's Olympians--and told him to wing it.

A basketball fan, he decided that he wanted his shoe to be like Mike's.

In the United States, which has pretty much mastered this game, a promoter would not have waited to be asked what kind of shoe. It's as instinctive as bending over to pick up found money.

So the Russians have been ordered to the back of the class, where they will go as soon as they evict the merchants from the media center store who are selling a U.S. film that is a major rival to the Japanese one that is sponsoring the Games.

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