CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Few if any athletes have been harder to avoid during commercial breaks than Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. But, barring any last-minute reversals, it appears football's most prolific endorser could be sidelined during a Super Bowl in which he'll be playing a starring on-field role.
That says less about Mr. Manning's still-potent appeal than it does about the Super Bowl itself, which is increasingly associated with lesser-known brands rather than the blue-chip marketers that have been traditionally aligned with Mr. Manning.
None of Mr. Manning's myriad brand-backers -- a group that includes MasterCard, Sony, DirecTV, Gatorade and Sprint -- are currently slated to run any Super Bowl ads.
Sprint, despite being an official sponsor of both the game and the NFL, as well as having active endorsement deals with Mr. Manning and the game's other quarterback, Drew Brees, is using its only Super Bowl spot for a secondary brand, Boost Mobile. (That effort will feature the 1985 Chicago Bears reprising their "Super Bowl Shuffle" music video.)
Pepsi's Gatorade is another major Manning backer that bought time a year ago but isn't returning this year, a casualty of PepsiCo's decision to pull its entire beverage portfolio from the game.
Of course, Mr. Manning's backers are hardly the only major brands to skip the game this year. Pepsi, FedEx and General Motors are among the usual Super Bowl advertisers that have walked away, and in their place are lesser-known, smaller-budgeted brands such as KGB and HomeAway that either can't afford the likes of Mr. Manning or are reluctant to have their brands overshadowed by a major celebrity.
"It has nothing to do with Peyton's desirability, because he's probably the best pitchman going," said Patrick Quinn, president of Chicago Sports & Entertainment partners, a sports-marketing firm.
Indeed, Mr. Manning's appeal has little to do with his absence from the big game.
Davie Brown Entertainment, which publishes a much-cited index of celebrity attributes, ranks Mr. Manning in the top 25 endorsers out of the 2,400 it tracks, with a score comparable to George Clooney and Morgan Freeman. He gets high grades for other attributes as well, with an "influence" rating comparable to Tom Brokaw and an "aspiration" rating similar to Denzel Washington.
"It's absurd" that Mr. Manning won't be used by marketers in a Super Bowl, said Darin Perry, director of corporate sponsorship at Millsport, the sports-marketing agency of the Marketing Arm. But Mr. Perry did note the inherent risk of using someone starring in a live event in ads during that time. If Mr. Manning performs poorly during the game, it could diminish the impact of ads starring him, or even open them to ridicule.
"There is some risk there," he said.