FOREMAN PROFILE GAINS ADDED PUNCH

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The big question, one week into the George Foreman Phenomenon, is whether it will have the power of his right hand or fall as flat as Michael Moorer.

Mere days after his stunning Nov. 5 victory over Mr. Moorer to become boxing's latest heavyweight champ, the 45-year-old Mr. Foreman was heralded as Madison Avenue's newest endorsement darling. Not only that, but sports writers were anointing the accomplished and charismatic part-time pugilist and preacher as boxing's long-sought messiah, capable of washing away years of controversy and negativity.

But betting on boxers to become marketing marvels is always risky. The sport is violent, its personalities easily perishable. Mr. Foreman is one of boxing's most enduring icons, and his latest triumph will raise his celebrity status to a new level. But after a week's worth of cooling, it remains to be seen whether Mr. Foreman will become the next Michael Jordan or the next Nancy Kerrigan.

"I've never really understood how all the media momentum got started for George Foreman," said David Burns, president of Burns Sports Celebrity Service, Chicago. "You journalists have given him so much press, I think it's you who have turned him into a hot endorsement prospect."

The speculation does have merit, though. Mr. Foreman began his comeback in 1987 after a 10-year layoff. Once lean and very mean, Mr. Foreman returned kinder, gentler and, yes, much older.

The story proved appealing to a mass audience and provided a marketing hook for the likes of Frito-Lay, KFC Corp. and Meineke Discount Muffler Shops. The Sports Marketing Letter estimated his 1993 endorsement income at $3 million.

But Publisher-Editor Brian Murphy believes that by winning the heavyweight belt, Mr. Foreman can double his endorsement income. "Usually, marketers have to make us like someone. We come to George Foreman wanting to like him," Mr. Murphy said. "His character is well-defined. We know about the preaching, the eating, his five namesake sons. Everything you want to know about George Foreman is imprinted on the minds of consumers."

In the Nov. 10 edition of USA Today, Meineke ran a congratulatory ad, created in-house, with the headline: "We always knew you were champ, and now you guaranteed it." Meineke will feature Mr. Foreman in four TV spots that break in January. An agency has yet to be selected.

Henry Holmes, the boxer's Beverly Hills, Calif.-based attorney, said early last week that he had received 111 calls from interested marketers, organizations and TV networks, seeking his client's services.

Mr. Foreman inked one deal last week: a book contract with Random House.

Forecasting Mr. Foreman's marketing prospects becomes more difficult when you add in the "Will he or won't he fight again?" factor. If Mr. Foreman fights again and loses, he risks damaging his marketability.

But regardless, broadcasters and sponsors say Mr. Foreman's victory has helped the sport, and it could even help boxing grow.

"The perception is that boxing is safe again, boxing is good again, and we have no one to thank but George," said Mark Taffet, senior VP at Time Warner Sports, which marketed the fight and televised it on HBO.

Leah Rickard contributed to this story.

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