Is Nike Next? AirTran Drops Scandal-Prone Vick

Football Pitchman Faces Indictment for His Alleged Role in Dog-Fighting Ring

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A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.

AirTran Airways is scrambling away from Michael Vick, but Nike is standing by its highest-profile football endorser -- for now.
Michael Vick
Michael Vick Credit: Todd Kirkland

Amid a flurry of news reports that the Atlanta Falcons quarterback could be indicted for his alleged role running a dog-fighting ring, the athletic-apparel giant -- which features Mr. Vick in TV ads and has named a footwear line after him -- says he is "rightfully presumed innocent" until proven otherwise.

According to a statement from Nike, "There is no change in the status of the agreement between Nike and football player Michael Vick. ... Nike will continue to monitor the situation."

AirTran jettisons Vick
AirTran, however, isn't sticking around to see how the case plays out. It announced last week it's not renewing its deal to keep the athlete as pitchman, a role he's held since 2004.

The airline did not explicitly cite Mr. Vick's off-the-field problems, but the dog-fighting allegations are merely the latest in a string of issues for Mr. Vick, who earlier in his career was a sought-after endorser due to his dynamic athleticism. He is considered by many to be the fastest and strongest-armed quarterback in the NFL.

While the dog-fighting story has hovered over Mr. Vick for months, AirTran may have been even more alarmed when Mr. Vick's publicist blamed the airline for his missing an appearance on Capitol Hill, where he was supposed to lobby for after-school-program funding.

Mr. Vick at one point had deals to hawk Coca-Cola Co.'s Powerade brand and Kraft Foods products, but those agreements have lapsed amid a string of off-the-field incidents including a lawsuit by a woman who claimed he gave her herpes; an obscene gesture to fans while walking off the field; and a mishap after airport-security workers found a secret compartment in a water bottle he was carrying and thought it smelled like marijuana. (No traces of marijuana were found in the compartment, which Mr. Vick said he used to conceal jewelry.)

Endorsements continue
Mr. Vick continues to endorse EA Sports video games. It wasn't immediately clear whether he still has a relationship with Hasbro's Nerf line, which he has endorsed in the past. Nerf recently announced a major deal with another NFL quarterback, Peyton Manning, who has no similar baggage. A Hasbro spokesman didn't respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Despite all this, Mr. Vick raked in an estimated $7 million in endorsements in 2007, according to Sports Illustrated's ranking of the top-paid athletes, in which he was No. 24.

Sports business consultant Marc Ganis said Mr. Vick's legal troubles aren't the only reason for his apparently dwindling appeal to marketers. "This is a guy who was supposed to be the face of the NFL but who hasn't performed to that level," Mr. Ganis said. "Is he radioactive? Not yet, but I think the sponsors that have him will wait to see how it plays out. He certainly shouldn't expect any new deals anytime soon."

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CORRECTION: An earlier version for this story incorrectly abbreviated AirTran as ATA. ATA is a separate company that bears no relation to AirTran and has no association with Michael Vick.
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