Super Bowl

When a Super Bowl MVP Doesn't Equal Endorsements

Position, Off-the-Field Problems Likely to Keep Santonio Holmes From Cashing In

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Super Bowl XLIII Most Valuable Player Santonio Holmes had the kind of game and has the kind of back story found in made-for-TV movies.

What he doesn't have is marketability.

Santonio Holmes
Santonio Holmes Credit: AP
Mr. Holmes caught nine passes for 131 yards and the game-winning touchdown with 35 seconds remaining Sunday to give the Pittsburgh Steelers a dramatic 27-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl. But his position, wide receiver -- and, more important, his off-the-field problems -- will likely relegate Mr. Holmes to the fate of such players as Deion Branch, Dexter Jackson, Larry Brown, Richard Dent, Desmond Howard and even Mr. Holmes' Pittsburgh teammate Hines Ward.

All were named MVP of the Super Bowl; none were able to cash in on that success with national endorsement deals. Some were from small-market teams, others played low-profile positions and some, like Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Dexter Jackson, were victims of both.

'Nothing doing'
"There's nothing doing with Holmes," said sports-marketing expert Bob Dorfman, exec VP-executive creative director of San Francisco-based agency Baker Street Partners. "He's not terribly charismatic anyway, and then there are his off-the-field issues."

Mr. Holmes, who attended Ohio State University, admitted last week prior to the Super Bowl that he dealt drugs in his hometown of Belle Glade, Fla., in order to make money when he was younger. Mr. Holmes said he was telling his story to help today's youth avoid the same mistakes. He also said that, as a child, he and his friends used to chase rabbits and catch them by hand, clubbing them to death in order to sell them for $3 to $5 apiece.

Mr. Holmes also was arrested in 2006 for disorderly conduct and was suspended for one game by Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin earlier this season after being charged with marijuana possession.

Pre-game scouting report
Even before the game was played, Mr. Dorfman wrote of Mr. Holmes in his annual "Super Bowl Scouting Report," which looks at potential Madison Avenue stars who might emerge from the game: "Arrested last October for marijuana possession, which could repel mainstream advertisers or attract munchie food makers."

"Corporate America has not only become increasingly risk-averse when it comes to endorsements, but it is also now extraordinarily focused on the value associated with endorsers," said David Carter, principal of the Los Angeles-based Sports Business Group and executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California. "They seek consistency on the field and the ability to reinforce their marketing messages away from it. Athletes, even ones that turn in fantastic performances as Super Bowl MVPs, are not 'locks' in terms of long-term marketability."

Messrs. Dorfman and Carter agreed that even without the off-the-field issues, Mr. Holmes' position works against him. Of the 44 Super Bowl MVPs, 22 have been quarterbacks, and nearly all have gone on to endorsement success, including such recognizable names as Joe Namath, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Tom Brady and the ubiquitous Peyton Manning.

'The glamour position'
"It's the glamour position," Mr. Dorfman said. "Quarterbacks get all the attention, they handle the ball all the time, and the cameras are always on them. For a wide receiver to cash in, it would take somebody with a larger-than-life personality, with a great back story -- not a suspect back story -- and somebody who is charismatic."

The man more likely to gain from the Super Bowl will be the one who threw the game-winning touchdown pass, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He was the only player Mr. Dorfman rated as a "touchdown" in his pre-game marketing scouting report.

Mr. Roethlisberger is only 26 years old and already has two Super Bowl rings. He was featured in a national spot for Campbell's Chunky Soup three years ago before a serious motorcycle accident weakened his marketability. Mr. Dorfman wrote that although Mr. Roethlisberger lacks Mr. Manning's charm and Mr. Brady's glamour, "'Big Ben' has a rugged, blue-collar appeal that matches well with any product that gets a tough job done without a lot of flash or hoopla -- like power tools, trucks, deodorants, or cold and flu remedies. ... In just his fifth year in the NFL, there's no ceiling on Big Ben's football -- and marketing -- future."

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