WILL OLYMPICS SNAP THE SPORTS TAPES SLUMP?

Supermarket video retailers have the opportunity to capitalize on the summer Olympics, which begin July 19, with a wave of tie-in releases to bolster what has been a lagging sports segment."The Olympics are always a big issue, and something that people are interested in," said Jamie Molitor, director of video operations at Dierbergs Markets, Chesterfield, Mo. Dierbergs will carry a few of the Olympic

Supermarket video retailers have the opportunity to capitalize on the summer Olympics, which begin July 19, with a wave of tie-in releases to bolster what has been a lagging sports segment.

"The Olympics are always a big issue, and something that people are interested in," said Jamie Molitor, director of video operations at Dierbergs Markets, Chesterfield, Mo. Dierbergs will carry a few of the Olympic tapes in its 14 stores.

Included in the pre-Olympic releases is "Olympica: America's Gold," which was released by ABC Video, Stamford, Conn., March 13. The two-volume set presents Gold Medal winning performances of America's legendary Olympians like Carl Lewis, Bruce Jenner, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Mary Lou Retton and Sugar Ray Leonard.

Next month, Turner Home Entertainment, Atlanta, will release a double-tape set, "100 Years of Olympic Glory," and a single tape, "America's Greatest Olympians." The latter release will include a traditional video rebate promotional tie-in with Hanes Her Way products, and a commemorative Olympic pin from Panasonic. Other Olympic-themed titles include "Golden Moments in U.S. Olympic History," due out May 7, from PolyGram Video, New York, and an animated children's title, "Animalympics," that UAV Entertainment, Fort Mill, S.C., will release May 1.

But even the Olympics can be a hard sell at supermarkets, retailers said. While many supermarkets that currently sell or rent sports videos will handle some of the Olympic tapes, others fear oversaturation of the marketplace. Raley's, West Sacramento, Calif., carries a variety of sports bloopers and training tapes for both sale and rental, but doesn't plan on stocking the Olympic tapes, said Dan Black, video buyer.

He said the live television broadcasts of the Olympics will create competition with video sales and rentals. "The Olympics are in the United States this year and won't be on a time delay," he pointed out.

Along with Olympic videos, other sports titles are coming to the market. CBS/Fox Video Sports, New York, plans two Olympic basketball videos: "Dream Team '96 Goes for the Gold," due out June 4, and "USA Basketball Olympic Highlights '96," to be released Sept. 3. As the National Basketball Association playoffs approach, other basketball tapes also will be available from CBS, including "Michael Jordan: Above & Beyond" and "Grant Hill: NBA Sensation," due out May 7, and "The Official 1996 NBA Finals Video," which will street July 23. Another CBS/Fox title, "Back on Top -- Cats!: The Official 1996 NCAA Championship Video," came out April 19. A professional hockey tape, "Ice and Asphalt: The World of Hockey," is being released by Paramount Home Video, Hollywood, tomorrow.

Memories of last year's strike are dimming and baseball titles are finding new sales potential, particularly in the home markets of various teams and players. New official Major League Baseball tapes being released by Orion Home Video, Los Angeles, April 30 are "Dodgers On-Line" and "No Place Like Home: The Story of the 1995 Colorado Rockies." Other key baseball videos are "Ken Griffey Jr.: Adventures in Baseball," from ABC Video, streeting May 31, and the Oscar-nominated documentary, "Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream," released by Turner March 25. Meanwhile, local highlight tapes like "Atlanta Braves 1995: Braves Win . . . It All!" from Turner, and the official World Series video from Orion, Los Angeles, continue to do well as the new season gets going, according to industry observers, particularly in Atlanta. Orion's "Cleveland Rocks," about the 1995 Indians, has been a big seller for northeast Ohio chains like Riser Foods, Bedford Heights; Finast, Maple Heights, and Buehler Food Markets, Wooster. Retailers are hoping the new slate of titles will increase interest in the category, saying sales currently aren't meeting their expectations.

"Sports tapes, in general, don't do too well here," said Molitor of Dierbergs. "They do OK as new releases, but once you put them in the catalog, they don't move too much." But others think that new titles, especially those involving the Olympics, can help change that. Some expect that the preponderance of Olympic programming on television will help ignite sales.

"The Olympics will generate interest in Olympic videos," said Bob Glish, vice president of operations at NDC/Mega Marts, Oak Creek, Wis.

"And they're going to need that interest for them to rent or sell," he added. He regularly carries a few sports tapes, mostly bloopers and highlights, for both sale and rental.

Goff Food Stores, Haslett, Mich., doesn't have room for sports or Olympic videos, said Shirley Decker, video buyer. "We've tried them in the past, and we can't give them away," said Decker.

One of the major difficulties is that sports videos that feature football, baseball and other teams typically only have regional appeal.

"If the 49ers have a good year, the tapes do well in California. But people in Cleveland don't want to see the Atlanta Braves win the World Series," said Bill Bryant, assistant vice president of Ingram Entertainment, La Vergne, Tenn.

"Sports videos are consistent sellers in their own niche, but we haven't seen any explosive growth in the category and don't anticipate any dramatic change," Bryant said.

Tom Fraley, video coordinator at Homeland Stores, Oklahoma City, carries a few golf and football tapes for rental but doesn't have a section devoted to sports. "Sports tapes do marginally well here. We're looking into carrying the Olympics and we'll try to find a place for them, certainly for rental and, if we have the space, for sale," he said.

Space is a consideration for most supermarket video buyers. "Sports tapes are something we don't and won't carry," said Robert Dodge, video supervisor of Inserra Supermarkets, Mahwah, N.J. "We decided to pass on the Olympics, mainly because we don't have the space, but also because there's a lot of sell-through coming out this quarter."

WaxWorks Video Works, Owensboro, Ky., which supplies tapes to several grocery chains in Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas, also finds sports tapes challenging. "We're trying to put together a [sales] package of Olympic tapes from different studios, and our challenge is incorporating them in one [display] location," said Kirk Kirkpatrick, vice president of sales. "The different studios don't want to include the others." WaxWorks is one of the few companies that will do some special signs for retailers, trying to incorporate and ride on the coattails of the Olympics. "Although I believe there will be some lasting interest in the Olympic tapes, people will see some Olympic events and also want to see others. There's so much of it on television that we see it as a challenge or competition as well as an opportunity," he said.

Bob Tollini, senior vice president of Major Video Concepts, Indianapolis, said that the three-week Olympic event will hurt video rental. "Absolutely, the Olympics are competition to rental," he said, "and they'll win!" Major Video Concepts distributes to thousands of stores nationally. "The Olympics will win to some extent," Tollini continued. "People will watch the Olympics like they watched the Gulf War. They'll get hooked and, if they get hooked, they don't rent."

Kirkpatrick of WaxWorks pointed out that supermarkets typically have more success with hit theatrical titles. "I'm not suggesting that there's not a market for the Olympic tapes, but a lot of that market will be saturated by the free TV that is available," he said.

The timeliness and news value of the Olympics works both to attract and distract views. Although John C. Groub Co., Seymour, Ind., doesn't carry any sports videos, it will carry some Olympic tapes.

"If there's something timely and consistent with what's happening from a current events standpoint, we normally participate," said Carl Lange, director of merchandising.

Olympic fever can cause a surge in pre- and post-Olympic video collecting by creating household names and overnight sensations. "That's what happened with Torville and Dean, the skaters," said Tollini of Major Video Concepts. "That tape did OK. No one had ever heard of them, but after the Olympics, people came in to buy their tape."