Netscape's Bookable Offense

Last month, when Netscape kicked off its provocative new $15 million advertising campaign for the Netcenter Web site, its goal was to cause a stir.

It succeeded. On Monday, lawyers for the Chelsea Football Club, one of England's top teams, demanded that Netscape withdraw the Netcenter advert— which portrays Chelsea fans as "soccer hooligans"— and publicly apologize to the club. "We think it totally and utterly gives the wrong impression of Chelsea Football Club," says Chelsea company secretary Alan Shaw. "It devalues its brand and its reputation and its integrity."

The ad in question is part of a television, radio, print, and Internet campaign designed by New York advertising hotshots Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners. Already appearing in The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine, the ad depicts a ballet scene juxtaposed with a photo of Chelsea fans cheering their team at a match. Above the montage runs a tag line with all the subtlety of a knee to the groin: "Bring soccer hooligans and men in tights together in harmony."

While many people associate soccer hooligans with violent, rioting fans, both Netscape and KB&P deny that the advert was intended to be derogatory to the club's backers. According to KB&P's Bill Oberlander, executive creative director of the Netcenter campaign, "The intention was to say that these are people who are rough around the edges and, obviously, people at the ballet are much more refined.

"Soccer hooligans," he contends, "are just very enthusiastic fans, no different than a Jets fan at the Meadowlands, or a gregarious, fanatical admirer of any kind of sport, whether it's soccer or badminton."

The image of rampaging badminton fans aside, Lynn Carpenter, director of Netcenter marketing, insists the term was not meant to offend. "The point of the ad is not to show any negative connotation," she says, though she admits, "I wouldn't run this advertising in a country where soccer is the national sport."

The picture Netscape used was a stock photo of Chelsea fans, none of whom gave their permission to be featured in the ad. But, according to Rick Kurnit, an advertising lawyer in the New York firm of Frankfurt, Garbus, Klein, & Selz, even if the fans (five are identifiable in the photo) felt they had been wronged, they would have little legal recourse under U.S. defamation law, which would consider the use of hooliganas no more than opinion or loose language. "I'm hard-pressed to see any claim by anyone or any violation of anyone's rights," he says.

Nevertheless, Netscape may be reevaluating the ad's prose. Carpenter did admit that "the term hooliganis questionable and we are looking into whether we have been offensive to anyone." If so, she adds, "We could change it to the word fan . . . or to any number of things that was more positive, though it's not something that we intend to do." That way, Netscape may just get off with a yellow card.


The Last Shot at Stephon

The Knicks' unceremonious pummeling of the Bulls on Sunday was certainly a fitting death knell for the passing of an unforgettable NBA era. But let's just hope the Knicks' playing straight men for a 48-minute comedy routine by the Bulls isn't the wave of the future. Thursday's matchup with the run-and-gun Minnesota Timberwolves may be a more realistic preview of the Knicks-Bulls rivalry in the years to come.

Bulls GM Jerry Krause is rumored to have his sights set on acquiring T-wolves free-agent-to-be Stephon Marbury in the off-season. The Knicks, on the other hand, have been mum on the prospect of claiming the gifted point guard, but the ceaseless wave of sports-radio talking heads are clamoring for Garden brass to go after the Coney Island native this summer. After seriously depleting their reserve of public appeal by dealing away fan favorites John Starks and Charles Oakley, the Knicks could certainly use a hometown hero to keep the petulant Garden faithful in their corner.

Superagent David Falk, who had a front-row seat for the Knicks' easy ride on Sunday, had no comment about his new client's future prospects. "I've just told [Marbury] to play out the season and see what happens," Falk told Jockbeat outside the Knicks locker room. What's been happening is an energetic offensive outburst by Marbury (18.4 points and 9.8 assists per)— the type of contribution that could turn the Knicks into a serious threat at both ends of the court. Now that would truly mark the end of an era.


The Miseducation of Hip Hop Media

Congrats to The Source Sports. The hip-hop sports mag is out with its first annual swimsuit issue, apparently giving us not only "Our Athletes. Our Voice," as its tag line reads, but "Our Chance to Dis Our Women."

contributors: Matthew Yeomans, Sarah Smith, Joanna Cagan
sports editor: Miles D. Seligman

 
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