Seven-Footer Oden Is Big With Advertisers

Hoops Phenom Inks Deals With Nike, Spalding, Others

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Greg Oden, the 7-foot-tall, 19-year-old basketball prodigy expected to be the first player selected in tomorrow's NBA Draft, has already begun scoring endorsement deals.
Mr. Oden, who opted to turn pro after only one year at Ohio State University, has already inked deals with Nike, Take Two Interactive, Spalding, Topps and Raymond Weill.

Not LeBron numbers
Of those, the Nike agreement is the most lucrative. And while details weren't immediately available, one person familiar with the matter said the contract was in excess of what the last two big men drafted with the first pick -- Andrew Bogut and Dwight Howard -- received, but well below the reported nearly $100 million pre-draft deal LeBron James inked with Nike.

Mr. Oden's deal with video-game company Take Two calls for him to grace the cover of the company's upcoming College Hoops 2K8 title. The Raymond Weill deal was described as a "partnership" that will involve Mr. Oden wearing Weill watches at tomorrow's draft.

Contracts such as these, for shoes, cards and games, are what sports marketers call "tools of the trade deals," and it remains to be seen if Mr. Oden will be able to branch out beyond those types of deals to the broader endorsements -- for cars, clothes and packaged goods, usually -- that go to athletes who transcend their sports.

In recent years, basketball big men such as Mr. Oden have generally struggled to obtain the caliber of deals achieved by smaller, more dynamic players such as Mr. James and Dwyane Wade.

Somewhat mature looking
And Mr. Oden's somewhat dour countenance and unusually weathered 19-year-old face (he frequently tells a story about taunters asking him how World War II was) may pose an additional hurdle. As will his out-of-the-way location: He's expected to be chosen first overall by the Portland Trailblazers, but experts say there's virtually no chance he falls past the Seattle Supersonics, who pick second. (The Blazers, said to be leaning toward Mr. Oden, will also consider University of Texas standout Kevin Durant with the top pick.)

In an apparent attempt to offset those hurdles, Mr. Oden has recently spent time reaching out to the ad world: chatting up Donny Deutsch on TV and dropping by the Midtown offices of Omnicom Group and BBDO.

Outreach will help, of course, but sports-marketing experts say winning championships -- a likely outcome if he lives up to the best-big-man-in-a-generation hype -- is the only way for an athlete to ensure his marketability.

"Ultimately, it comes down to his play," said Steve Rosner, partner and founder of New Jersey-based 16W Marketing. "The way to get that great portfolio is to win."
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