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Sponsors geared for magic matchup

Magic Johnson vs. Michael Jordan won't be the only dream matchup in the National Basketball Association championship series. How about Pepsi vs. Coke? Kentucky Fried Chicken vs. McDonald's? Nike vs. Converse? Each of these has a marketing deal with either Johnson, the Los Angeles Lakers superstar, or the Chicago Bulls' Jordan, and they hope to share the glory that their commercial spokesmen figure to net.

"This is why they sign these guys to the big contracts," said Lon Rosen, the Los Angeles agent who represents Johnson. The extra attention Johnson and Jordan will receive, Rosen said, amount to "free commercials" for advertisers.

Some companies are revamping their advertising plans to cash in on their celebrity endorsers' recent success in getting to the NBA finals. McDonald's, which earlier this year sold McJordan sandwiches in the Chicago area, said it will run a barrage of TV commercials featuring Jordan promoting its new low-fat offering, McLean DeLuxe.

The best-of-seven championship series "will be one of the best-watched shows on the air this week and next, and he (Jordan) is going to get great exposure," said a McDonald's spokesman. "There's always a good rub-off."

Nike, the nation's No. 1 sneaker marketer, said it will air a "retrospective" of previous Michael Jordan commercials during the NBA Finals, six spots featuring the athlete appearing with filmmaker Spike Lee.

Lesser known companies are delighting in the Johnson-Jordan showdown, too. Take Amurol Products of suburban Chicago, which makes Hang Time, a shredded bubble gum endorsed by Jordan that is sold during the basketball season.

Normally, by this time of year, Amurol stops selling Hang Time and instead markets its summer brand, Big League Chew. This year, though, the company is still shipping Hang Time to retailers in the Chicago area "because, obviously, this town's gone crazy with Bulls fever," said Gary Schuetz, Amurol's vice president for marketing.

Marketers are not gleeful simply because Johnson vs. Jordan is expected to be a great battle. Their teams also happen to represent the No. 2 and No. 3 TV markets in the country, so hordes of hometown fans should boost the viewership figures.

In the Los Angeles-area television market, there are 5-million households with TV sets. In Chicago, there are 3.1-million. Last year's finalists and this year's runners-up, Portland and Detroit, together have only 2.5-million TV households.

For NBC, the network televising the NBA contest, the biggest worry is that the best-of-seven series will run only the minimum four games, leaving it with too little commercial time to sell to sponsors.

Still, some skeptics scoff at the idea that even a seven-game championship contest would spur increased sales for advertisers with ties to Johnson or Jordan. Part of the problem, they say, is that the two ballplayers already are so well known that there is little the series can do to boost their image in a way that would add luster to the products they endorse.

A poll taken last year by the research firm Marketing Evaluations-TVQ found that Jordan already was the most "likable" and "familiar" performer in America. Johnson was tied for second with former Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton.