SEARCHING THE SUPER BOWL FOR NEXT BIG ENDORSEMENT STAR

Few This Year Have Charisma to Carry National Ad Campaign

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DETROIT (AdAge.com) –- Who will be this year’s Tom Brady?

In 2002, performing on one of the world’s biggest athletic stages -- second only perhaps to soccer’s quadrennial World Cup or the bi-annual Olympics -- Mr. Brady led the New England Patriots to what would be the first of three Super Bowl championships in four seasons.

New England Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady has become one of the NFL's most remarkable commodities.
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Along the way, he cemented his status as not only one of the game’s premier players, but one of the National Football League’s most marketable commodities. His telegenic looks landed him national ad campaigns with Visa and “Got Milk?,” among others, not to mention a GQ cover and photo spread.

The biggest launching pad
“The Super Bowl might be the biggest launching pad of all for an athlete,” said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based sports marketing firm SportsCorp.

Former Oakland Raiders star Marcus Allen agreed.

Mr. Allen, a Hall of Fame player, catapulted to stardom by leading the Raiders to the Super Bowl title in 1984 with a 38-9 win over the Washington Redskins. Mr. Allen rushed for 191 yards, including a spectacular, and well-remembered, 74-yard touchdown run in which he reversed course at one point before running through most of Washington’s defenders.

For his efforts, he was named the game’s most valuable player -- and earned national endorsement deals with Coca-Cola Co. and Hertz.

“It was all a blur after the game,” said Mr. Allen, in town for Sunday’s game. “So many companies calling. But, yeah, the Super Bowl really was the genesis of it all for me.”

“First and foremost, of course, an athlete has to perform well,” Mr. Ganis said. “Still, that doesn’t necessarily translate into immediate endorsements.”

Slim pickings for marketers
In fact, it might be slim pickings for marketers this year. The one player with enough charisma and charm to carry a national ad campaign, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis, is strongly learning toward retirement after 13 seasons in the NFL. Retirement certainly hasn’t prohibited athletes from being featured in ads -- golfer Arnold Palmer and basketball star Michael Jordan still are highly paid endorsers -- but Mr. Bettis isn’t quite at that elite level.

He did, however, film a Campbell Soup commercial last week with his mother and Campbell’s current mother-son pitch team, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb and his mom.

In his annual “Super Bowl Marketing Scouting Report,” Bob Dorfman, exec VP-creative director of Pickett Advertising, San Francisco, said only one player from the two small-market teams had breakout national potential -- Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

“Ben’s pledge to not shave his beard until after the Super Bowl sounds like a perfect opportunity for Gillette, Schick or Braun,” Mr. Dorfman said. “And though ‘The Roethlis-burger’ is served in several Pittsburgh joints, it’s time to take it national via McDonald’s or Burger King.”

One 'bad career move'
Mr. Dorfman joked that Mr. Roethlisberger’s breakup with “LPGA hottie Natalie Gulbis was a bad career move. That’s a match made in sports marketing heaven.”

He said Mr. Bettis, nicknamed “The Bus,” could still end up doing something obvious with Greyhound. Or, because Mr. Bettis’ parents have never missed one of his games throughout his college career at Notre Dame or in the pros, Mr. Dorfman suggested a marketer like Merrill Lynch could feature them all in a spot about retirement plans.

Others with potential include Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselback (although Mr. Dorfman quipped that the bald Mr. Hasselback is “perfect for a Rogaine demo”) and Seattle running back Shaun Alexander, who earned regular-season league MVP honors this season.

“Alexander is finally getting the national attention he deserves,” Mr. Dorfman said, “though his enigmatic personality and deeply religious nature [his daughters are named Heaven and Trinity] may prevent him from becoming a major marketing force."

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