WINNING ISN'T EVERYTHING; ATHLETES NEED 'LEGS' AND SPARK TO TACKLE DEALS

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Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith. Tommy Moe and Picabo Street. Riddick Bowe and Buster Douglas.

All are athletes who became household names, for at least a week, after excelling in high-profile sports events. All were tapped by the news media, including Advertising Age, to become endorsement superstars. And all have failed to live up to the hype.

So in the aftermath of Super Bowl XXIX, ripe with several remarkable individual performances, the question arises: Whither the endorsement prospects of Jerry Rice, Deion Sanders and the game's most valuable player, Steve Young?

There is no doubt that all three San Francisco 49ers are now more marketable than they were before the Super Bowl. But sports marketing experts, and even these players' agents, say that winning a championship ring, medal or belt doesn't mean the athlete will win a motherlode of endorsements. Or even a handful. Or even one.

"That one event isn't going to lead to a flood of endorsements," said Greg Anderson, public relations manager for Nike Sports Management, which handles Mr. Sanders.

Some agents would have us believe differently. Remember when boxer George Foreman supposedly got more than 120 offers back in November after recapturing the heavyweight belt at the age of 45?

Since then, Mr. Foreman has jumped out of a suitcase in a Choice Hotels International ad and hosted "Saturday Night Live." After that? Nothing.

There are advertisers who chase athletes who win big games. But once the player signs a deal with one marketer, the rest usually lose interest. That's undesirable in this post-Michael Jordan era, when every superstar athlete and cause celebre wants to be a Twinkie-a lucrative brand with an enduring shelf life.

But to be a Twinkie, an athlete has to have a story with legs. That story doesn't necessarily have to involve winning.

"Personalities thrive," said Nova Lanktree, president of the Chicago-based Lanktree Sports Celebrity Network. "Advertisers want likability, recognizability and credibility. Winning is nice, but not often necessary."

Thus, '94 Winter Olympic stars Mr. Moe and Ms. Street are now out of sight, out of mind.

And then there are athletes like Mr. Aikman of the Dallas Cowboys. He seems to meet the criteria but has yet to attract interest outside the athletic apparel and footwear categories.

Those who know him say he's just not into the marketing game; others say he's just too bland.

Mr. Aikman's teammate, Mr. Smith, already had a number of deals with the likes of Reebok, Coca-Cola Co. and Starter Corp. before the Cowboys won the Super Bowl in 1993 and 1994. Such athletes have little opportunity to expand their endorsement prospects, since marketers don't want to become lost among all the others.

But does a Super Bowl ring or Olympic gold medal help? Of course. But it doesn't make the sell by itself.

"It's natural to speculate on how the marketability of an athlete can be changed by the exposure a Super Bowl provides," said Fred Fried, exec VP of Integrated Sports International, which handles Mr. Young. "But a Super Bowl can only put them in a position for a change. It doesn't automatically mean there will be one."

Except for perhaps Mr. Young. The knock on Mr. Young was that he couldn't win the big game. Now he has. And he was immediately rewarded, appearing with Mr. Rice in the traditional "I'm going to Disneyland" spot.

But Mr. Fried said the quick-hit deals will end there. The strategy will be to wait and patiently look for a couple of lucrative, long-term deals.

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