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NBA Benches Hasbro in Favor of Mattel for Licensing Deal

January 23, 1998|GREG JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mattel Inc. has won an exclusive licensing deal to produce toys and games for the National Basketball Assn. The five-year contract could generate an additional $300 million in revenue for Mattel, but some observers suspect that Mattel's sales could falter if the NBA's key star retires and fans grow weary of players' legal woes.

Mattel will replace rival Hasbro Inc., which held the contract for the past eight years. Mattel's first NBA products--Barbie dolls sporting NBA and Women's National Basketball Assn. logos--will make their debut next month at a major toy industry fair in New York.

Hasbro declined to comment on the impact of losing the NBA license. "While we're disappointed to no longer have a broad relationship with the NBA we still have a strong relationship with the National Football League, the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball and NASCAR," a Hasbro spokesman said.

The contract is a welcome addition for Mattel, which is best known for its Barbie doll line. The NBA logos--particularly those associated with the WNBA--can be used to help draw interest from girls, observers said, but Mattel can also use the NBA connection to build its base among boys.

But Mattel's deal comes at a time when the NBA faces the potential retirement of superstar Michael Jordan at the end of this season. And fans are voicing growing concern over how highly paid basketball players act on and off the court. Some athletic shoe companies are reviewing the use of NBA players in ads.

Earlier this week, Washington Wizard forward Chris Webber was arrested on the way to practice and charged with assault, resisting arrest and possession of marijuana. And former Golden State Warrior guard Latrell Sprewell will attend a hearing on Monday related to his suspension for attacking Coach P.J. Carlesimo.

Licensing deals in general are increasingly important for manufacturers because more than half of all toys sold each year are licensed products. Mattel had earlier negotiated a narrow range of auto-racing licenses, but the NBA contract represents its broadest venture yet with a major professional sports league.

Mattel will use the NBA logos in its Cabbage Patch, Hot Wheels, action figures and collectibles lines. The majority of Hasbro's sports-related products--in particular, its NFL Starting Lineup collectible sets--are purchased by boys. But industry observers say that leagues increasingly view licensed product as an effective method of drawing females into their sports. The NBA, which has been licensing its brand name and images for more than a decade, expects Mattel to "really get behind us because this is their only major sports licensing deal," said NBA spokeswoman Hilary Cassidy.

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