From Athlete Marketing to Icon Marketing

No better time for major change than the start of the new year. So as of January 1, I’ll no longer be serving my longtime role as CMO at BDA Sports Management. After 15 years, it’s time to move on. And this site is now “Icon Marketing Guy”.

Why now? Why shake things up after so many years? Because as a marketer, I’m appropriately insecure and paranoid. I believe that any marketer who thinks that he or she is an “expert” is really a dinosaur looking for a tar pit. Marketing is constantly changing. And as the “expert marketer” gets older, the clients and their fans do not. So I feel that to stay relevant, and to remain ahead of the pack in the world of talent marketing, I need to continue to grow. I’ve been marketing NBA players for 15 years. It’s time for a new challenge. And the opportunity to learn from the amazing people at PMK-BNC was simply way too exciting for me to pass on.

But I’m also very aware of how the marketplace is changing. When I started, endorsement deals were primarily dominated by professional athletes. Aligning with consumer brands was frowned upon by traditional celebrities, and athletes had the lion’s share of the opportunities. Then came Kobe in Denver, Tiger in Florida, Lance in France (see how I rhymed that?) . Mount Olympus came crumbling down. Couple that with a major recession, and you have a sponsorship landscape full of brands cutting spending and afraid of athletes.

In the meantime, the game also changed in film, television and music. In film and scripted television, studios cut their “above the line” budgets by surrounding superstars with supporting casts of up and coming (and inexpensive) newcomers. Well known, but “b-level” actors began losing work. And turning to commercial work. In music, artists started connecting directly with their fans, and record company revenues plummeted as they didn’t foresee the importance of digital downloads. Artists no longer could rely on record deals to pay their bills. They started to focus even more on live performing. And on sponsors. Finally, reality television created a whole new class of celebrities who had absolutely no reluctance to pitch products.

So if you fast forward from my first day in the business until 2014, you have a completely changed landscape. Brands are more reluctant to hire athletes. And they have a plethora of alternatives. Brand work now goes to actors, musicians, comedians, reality stars and also to a select group of charismatic, trustworthy athletes. The cream of the crop in each of these verticals gets all of the work. No longer do athletes dominate the sponsorship world. Need proof? Jennifer Aniston works with Aveeno and Vitamin Water. Nuff said.

Another very exciting trend has also emerged. Equity deals. This is very big picture thinking that requires a tolerance for (calculated) risk. At BDA, we helped launched a very successful wine company for Yao Ming, and a chain of health clubs for Steve Nash. I believe there are unlimited brands looking for a boost from credible celebrities. These relationships are much more profound (and evergreen) than traditional endorsement deals. When they work, they can be very rewarding. This is very enjoyable work, and I wanted to be in a place with a roster deep enough to allow me to participate in more licensing and new venture work.

So it is out with the old and in with the new. I leave BDA feeling blessed to have so many wonderful years there, and to leave with lifelong friendships that I know will continue. When I’m asked by college students for career advice, I always suggest they work at places where they respect the people. And I head to PMK BNC knowing I’ll be surrounded by a group that is known for their work ethic and their character. I know they will teach me a ton, that I’ll give it my very best, and that I’ll be positioned to learn, grow and contribute. Can’t ask for more than that.

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Yale University Blames Peyton Manning for Obesity in America

Yale University caused quite a stir in the athlete marketing world last week when they published a study on the impact on youth of athlete endorsements of food and beverage brands. (http://news.yale.edu/2013/10/07/unhealthy-food-marketed-youth-through-athlete-endorsements) The study, conducted by Yale doctoral candidate Marie Bragg at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, analyzed 100 professional athletes and the brands they endorse. The results showed that sporting goods is the primary product category endorsed by professional athletes, followed by food and beverages. LeBron James, Serena Williams and Peyton Manning were cited as the athletes with the “most” food and beverage endorsements, while NBA athletes overall represented more food and beverage companies than other sports. The study concluded that the majority of these endorsement deals were for unhealthy food and beverage products.

 The author then asserts that athletes are partly responsible for, or at least contributing to, childhood obesity in America, and goes on to conclude that these athletes should “use their status and celebrity to promote healthy messages to youth”. That’s right folks, it’s Peyton Manning’s fault that our kids are fat. It’s not lack of exercise, or poorly balanced diets, or too much screen time. It’s Peyton Manning.

In my completely biased, athlete marketer’s point of view, this report jumps to very dramatic conclusions, and unfairly paints a completely one-sided pictures of athlete spokespeople. For the record, I’ve always sided on the “athletes are role models” side of the debate. Whether we like it or not, our kids look up to superstar athletes as heroes. They want to jump, run, hit, dunk, swim and throw like their favorite stars. And of course kids are influenced by the brands athletes endorse. Otherwise brands wouldn’t pay them, and I wouldn’t have a job. So I do believe that athletes have influence on our kids. So of course if LeBron James endorses Coke, more kids will drink it. Does that mean we should conclude, as the Yale study does, that athlete spokespeople are responsible for childhood obesity in America? Absolutely not.  This study is a myopic, biased and incomplete look at athlete endorsements. A few key questions to add some depth to the conversation:

Does LeBron actually sell cheeseburgers?

Brands hire athletes not simply to drive sales. They hire athletes to “personify” their brands, via association with personalities that are charming, healthy, active, successful and vibrant. McDonald’s doesn’t ask LeBron James to hawk Big Macs. They ask him to help promote an enjoyable, active, balanced lifestyle. And typically, brands like McDonalds and Coca-Cola partner with superstar athletes as part of larger strategic initiatives such as league/team sponsorships, national programs (3 on 3) and or Olympic activations. So the immediate goal of these partnerships is typically not to drive sales. Brands hire athletes to convey corporate branding messages, especially messages about balanced and healthy lifestyle choices.

If athletes encourage food choices, what else do they influence?

To play devil’s advocate, perhaps star athletes do deserve some blame for the obesity epidemic. If that’s the case, then don’t they also deserve credit for the POSITIVE influence they have on our youth? How many millions of kids are inspired to play sports by their heroes? If you believe that LeBron and company deserve blame for obesity, then surely you also agree they deserve credit for the millions of kids that get out and play organized sports everyday.

In today’s post-Tiger endorsement world, integrity is more important than ever. The athletes that get the lion’s share of endorsement opportunities also do a ton of great community work. At the very least, if athletes are to blame for consumption of fast foods and sugary drinks, then they also deserve credit for their tremendous contributions to their communities, and for encouraging kids to participate in sports.

Finally, this study is a great example of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The study looks at which categories athletes typically endorse. Of course sporting goods, fast foods and beverages are the top categories. These are also some of the top sports advertisers, so naturally their ads feature athletes. (The study failed to mention how few athletes choose to endorse alcohol brands). It isn’t fair to fault Peyton Manning for pitching Papa John’s Pizza instead of Granny Smith Apples. When was the last time you saw a Super Bowl ad for apples? Obesity isn’t Peyton’s fault. And Yale should know better. 

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Cheers Guinness!

ImageThis week, Steve Nash fulfilled one of his dreams. He tried out for one of the best soccer clubs in the world. And news travelled fast. (see below)

No, Steve isn’t hanging up his Laker uni anytime soon. As people quickly figured out, this was a promotional effort to help Guinness promote their International Champions Cup. And a brilliant promotion it was.

Far too often, brands hire a spokesperson and hope for the best. Assuming that signing an athlete will on its own move the needle is a waste of money. In the case of Guinness, they had the three essential ingredients to make an athlete engagement successful:

1. The athlete loves the brand. Steve Nash is a rabid fan of Guinness. He was thrilled at the possibility of working with his favorite libation.

2. The athlete loves the activation. Steve is a well known soccer freak. He loves the sport (if you get him talking about Tottenham, you better have the afternoon open). And he is a legitimate soccer talent. Guinness didn’t ask a soccer novice to participate. That would have come off like a stunt. They hired a legitimate and respected soccer guy.

3. The activation makes sense. Guinness needed to generate some buzz for their soccer tournament. Soccer in the US has its die hard fans, but it isn’t a mainstream sport yet. By tying a star from a mainstream sport (basketball) to a sport he loves (soccer), Guinness generated buzz in mainstream media. The activation made sense, and came off as credible.

The day was long, as Steve had to endure a full 8 hours of interviews. And as expected, plenty of questions came about Dwight Howard and the Lakers. But Steve was also given ample time to talk about the activation. And it didn’t come across as “pitchy”, because it wasn’t. He was legitimately excited about the experience, and proud to be associated with the brand. And that came across in his interviews.

Sometimes a partnership isn’t about TV ads, or product pitching. Sometimes it’s about a great idea, the right partners and a creative activation. Everybody wins. Cheers to Guinness. And to StarPower and Taylor Strategy, the agencies who put it all together. This one was a lot of fun, and a great success.

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Hope Springs Eternal: 2013 Los Angeles Dodgers

DOdgers opening day

My career focuses on the NBA. My sports passion is the NFL. But nothing gets me fired up more than opening day at Dodger Stadium.

It’s been a long time since the Dodgers were really good, since they were as good as us lifelong Angelenos expect them to be. 25 years to be exact. Having grown up in the days of Garvey, Lopes, Russell, Cey, Yeager, Smith and Baker, I’m just programmed to expect the Dodgers to face the Yankees in the World Series each fall. Like Charlie Brown and the football, every opening day feels like THIS will be the year it will all click again. THIS will be the roster that comes together as a mighty unit. THIS will be the Dodgers year.

So I say this with a word of caution: I fully recognize that I’m a sucker for opening day.

That said, yesterday somehow did feel different. Stadium is polished up. Roster is stacked with guys who seem legit. Stability in the manager’s spot and in the front office. More importantly, the Dodgers are finally fully embracing their heritage. I thought it was great when Magic was about to throw the first pitch, but when Mattingly waived him off to bring in Sandy Koufax (with Vinny making the call), I almost lost it. It felt like years of wishing the Dodgers got back to their old ways were finally over. A bow to the past, and a bright future ahead.

(Good thing opening day wasn’t a day earlier. Sunday was Passover, and we know Sandy would have politely declined.)

And what a sight it was to see Sandy, Orel and Clayton all standing together! Koufax and Hershiser passed the baton right in front of us all, as if to say “alright kid, you are next in line. You better be ready.”  Kershaw responded with a home run and a complete game shut out. The kid is ready.

The kid in me is ready too. Nothing ignites the kid in me like opening day. Memories of my childhood, going to games with my dad, my step-dad, my friends all come rushing back. The beauty of the mountains in the outfield, the crispness of the grass on the field, the taste of a Dodger dog. The hope that this is gonna be THEIR YEAR. I’m a kid again.

Who knows how it will all come together. One thing’s for sure. Today, the Dodgers are undefeated and in first place. The team looks very solid. The owners seem committed to winning. Vinny is in the booth. And the stadium is beautiful. It’s time for Dodger baseball.

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BDA’s Bill Sanders at the Ivy Sports Symposium by Spencer McIntosh

(Thanks to Spencer McIntosh for submitting the following article!)

On November 16th, BDA’s very own Bill Sanders spoke at the Ivy Sports Symposium at Columbia University in New York. The annual Symposium, touted as one of the premiere Sports Business conferences in the world, featured many different topics and panel discussions throughout the day. Bill joined fellow agents and athlete representatives to discuss Athlete Marketing and Representation. Bill shared his thoughts to an audience of aspiring sports leaders and young professionals in the industry. The topics in the panel discussion included building a players brand, managing their expectations, and the growing emergence of social media to connect with fans.

BDA Sports Management’s Marketing division is the only agency in the industry dedicated exclusively to player marketing. Here are a few notable excerpts from the panel discussion, which was moderated by ESPN’s Business Analyst Andrew Brandt.

On Penetrating the market for clients:

“As marketers, we’re ultimately judged by our success of generating revenue for our clients off the court.  But to me, that’s the end of the process, that’s the fruit of your labor. The first step is to help build the athlete’s brand, tell their story through social media, traditional media, community work, and by working with their team and league.

We live in the age of authenticity and transparency. As an athlete, you have to be who you really are. We’ve seen so many athletes fall from Mt. Olympus. Over the last ten years, as sports fans we have seen athletes who we thought we could look up to and to revere. Then you find out their not who they said they are.

In basketball, you start with a client who’s 19 years old and making millions of dollars. Often times that player is surrounded by friends who are telling them that they should be on a Wheaties box or have a deal with McDonalds. We try to slow them down and explain that brand building takes time. The more time you’re willing to invest in this process, the more patient you are, and the more you follow our lead in terms of building a good reputation in the community, the better you’ll be. By doing media training so and having your personality shine, brands can feel that you’re charismatic, charming, and have integrity. The more time and effort you’re willing to put into that, the more benefit you’re going to see down the road n terms of long term sponsorship.

In basketball and other team sports, revenue for the player comes mostly from their contract. So a small percentage of their revenue is going to be marketing dollars. The deals are generally short term, for the household names the deals will be longer with brands such as Nike, but the average deals are for a 2-3 year term. They turn over relatively quickly. But to make that steady and long term, you need to build a solid brand that’s authentic, that people can trust, and where you’re not too worried about some fall from grace.”

Controlling Clients Expectations

“As the marketing person, I rely on the agents a tremendous amount. The agent has the closest relationship with the player. I have relationships with these guys and I work with them on brand building, but the agent has that close relationship. As for handling a player’s expectation, we’ve had some success in telling our clients the following: Your marketing will always follow a step behind your progress on the court. So when you get to the place where you think you’re at your peak as a player, the marketing is going to follow right behind that. But if you’re not in the starting lineup, or if you’re not making the all star game and your stats aren’t great, then you shouldn’t be worrying too much about marketing yet.

We tend to have the best luck with clients who are willing to trust our input and follow our lead.

We recently had something work really well with Rajon Rondo. He’s really into fashion.  Not many people know that, but he wanted people to know that. So we suggested that he do an internship at GQ. At first, he was reluctant. But he trusted us on it and it went really well. He told us afterwards that he enjoyed it and was a great experience. That’s how one would go about building trust with their clients.”

Challenges in the Player Marketing Industry

Friends Being in Control of a Players Business Responsibilities

“One of the biggest threats is that a few high profile athletes are entrusting their friends with their marketing. That’s a dangerous precedence, because whatever expertise the athlete is need of, whether legal advice, marketing advice, or contract advice, to put yourself in the hands of someone who doesn’t have experience, bad things can happen and have happened. In basketball, this is almost now becoming the norm. I think there’s going to have to be more high profile setbacks before athletes to limit the amount of influence their friends can have on some of these areas.”

Image Control: Contracts and Social Media

“Using social media is an opportunity to tell your story to your fans in an authentic way. Over time, athletes realize it’s a critical branding tool. It’s a challenge for them to tell their story to the fans and to present it to potential brands and partners. But when they understand how to do it, then it really can shine.

The way in which we connect with athletes has evolved. In the old days, you could send a check for ten dollars to the Pittsburg Steelers, and then in return receive a fake autograph from Terry Bradshaw. That was it, but at the time you really felt connected to him. Now, our athletes are responding to questions from fans and encouraging fans to upload content of their own, it’s a more robust connection now. The biggest reason why we do sports marketing is because brands want to borrow that fan loyalty. Being a life long Steelers fan is generational. Your children will be lifelong Steelers fans too, meaning that there is a lifelong loyalty to teams. Brands want to borrow that fan loyalty, and social media gives us the ability to lend that to them. This makes for a much more rewarding relationship between the brand and the athlete.

Thinking through the benefits of a partnership are important as well. We love working with Red Bull for example. They won’t just want to re-tweet something, but they’ll offer ideas for a promotion. They suggested a “ball drop” with Rondo, where we were going to put a signed basketball of his in various landmarks throughout Boston. Fans would tweet hints about where it would be, and the first fans to find it would get to keep the signed ball. Fans enjoy things like that, and they certainly don’t mind some sponsor engagement and social media channels. But it has to be authentic.”

**Spencer is the founder of Ball Abroad, a company that provides resources and insight on the global basketball markets. After graduating from the George Washington University in 2009, Spencer was based in London, Prague, and parts of Spain. While abroad, he joined the staff of various teams where he helped with marketing and sales, as well as scouting talent, and produced video profiles for players. Spencer continues to write for basketball websites and consult for players and agencies.

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D-Wade and Li-Ning. China Hoopas.

Big news on the sneaker front comes in the announcement that Dwyane Wade has left Nike for Chinese sneaker brand Li-Ning. While other NBA players have signed with Chinese sneaker companies, DWade’s signing is clearly something more significant than any of the previous defections to the Great Wall. Is this an anomaly, or a sign of the times?

Clearly Nike remains the sneaker superpower, and this doesn’t really change much for them. Nike remains the market share 800-pound gorilla, and they still can boast the greatest roster of superstars on the planet. They remain the standard bearer.

But this signing is more than an anomaly. It signals two key issues worth taking note of:

1. China is for real. Superstar athletes generally rely on their sneaker company to help build their brands, especially in the US. Nike helped create the iconic brands of MJ, Tiger Woods, LeBron and most athlete icons we’ve seen emerge over the past 20 years. Yes, these guys all had additional sponsors to help create their brands, but Nike was always the cornerstone.

I think Wade’s decision says as much about the growing importance of the Chinese market as it does about his brand preference. Wade realizes that while the US remains critical to his branding, China is just as important. Not coincidentally, this news comes at the same time that T-Mac announced that he is going to play in China next year. Players who are loved in China can earn a tremendous amount of additional revenue, and add years to their revenue producing lifespan. Chinese fans are savvy, and players who pay attention to China are rewarded with fan loyalty and new revenue streams.

2. Li-Ning is for real. In 2008, BDA was involved is a groundbreaking (and foreshadowing) deal between Baron Davis and Li-Ning. That deal was a signal that Li-Ning was a real option for NBA players seeking alternatives to US shoe brands. Other deals quickly followed, and suddenly Chinese sneaker companies like Anta, 361, Peak and Luyou were signing players (especially Rockets-thanks due to Yao Ming) as well.

Just a few years back, many Chinese shoe companies would sign NBA stars and hope for the best. Perhaps they would shoot a TVC and buy some media time. But they were still figuring things out. Li-Ning’s signing of D-Wade signals a quantum leap in their commitment to, and understanding of, the power of aligning with an NBA superstar.

Without having talked to Wade’s people, I’m certain they entered the deal with confidence in Li-Ning’s activation plan. This wasn’t about the money. This was about Wade’s commitment to China, and to helping a new partner move the needle. Li-Ning wouldn’t have landed Wade without a fully developed, strategic marketing program to activate the partnership. This deal is a game changer. Let’s keep an eye on how things develop, but doubters who wrote off all of the Chinese shoe companies may have spoken too soon.

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How The Mighty Fall: Tiger, LeBron, Lance….

A wise man once said “we are our own worst enemy”. Truer words were never spoken. Whether you are a student, a working professional or a superstar athlete, you can probably look in the mirror and see the person that stands in the way of you reaching your true potential. I certainly believe this wisdom applies to me, and most of the people I care for.

Lance Armstrong’s withdrawal from the fight to clear his name against implications of steroids is a very sad moment in sports history. Armstrong’s accomplishments on a bicycle place him light years ahead of any other professional cyclist. His defeat of cancer has inspired millions of people diagnosed with the brutal disease. He is a hero to millions, both as an athlete and as an individual. Which is why the news is so enormous. It rocks the world of professional cycling, and robs many of their inspiration.

Of course there will be many that will stand beside Lance no matter what. And I would never argue with them. As a cancer survivor, and someone who achieved so much after his diagnosis, he has made a tremendous impact on the world. His Livestrong Foundation remains a stellar organization that will do good work for many years to come. So no one can deny the fact that Lance Armstrong did wonderful things in the face of cancer. For that, unless you’ve walked in his shoes, you should applaud him.

What is troubling is that we may never know exactly HOW he did those wonderful things. In fighting cancer, anything goes. There are no rules. If you fight cancer (or AIDS-see “Magic Johnson”), you do whatever it takes. And if you beat it, you are spectacular in your strength and determination. But in sports, no one likes a cheater. If Lance took “performance enhancers”, even as part of his cancer battle, then whatever work he did as an individual gets in large part negated by the fact that he may have “cheated” his way to his numerous Tour De France victories.

If that’s the case, and we may never know, then at some point Lance (or someone around him) perhaps should have put a stop to his racing career. As we have seen with Tiger Woods and LeBron James, the other two icons of the Mount Rushmore of Sports who have fallen, we all want greatness from our heroes, but we also want integrity and honesty.

When I was a kid, sports hero troubles were limited to excessive drinking, womanizing and the occasional locker room brawl. Yes, back then the media shielded bad behavior in order to remain drinking buddies with the icons they covered. But the problems were much more simple. And fans knew the guys were imperfect. Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, Magic Johnson, Terry Bradshaw and all the rest were “regular guys”. Athletes today get themselves in trouble when they try to portray themselves as perfect, and then fall from grace. And their issues (steroids, drinking and driving, association with bad dudes) are much more complicated. Fans seem to expect more while athletes deliver less.

I always advise my clients to be authentic. I really think that’s all fans want. We paint our heroes, and they paint themselves, as something they cannot life up to. We reward them for super-human achievements, and don’t want to believe that they aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Ultimately, their true essence is revealed and we are heartbroken. When you are revered by millions, and make millions for being so exceptional, it must be pretty easy to believe the hype. Ego gets in the way, and athletes themselves can lose track of the difference between who they really are and what the public perception of them is. We may want to believe our heroes are perfect, but the minute they start seeing themselves that way, they are vulnerable to a severe fall from grace.

Somewhere along the way, it seems to me Lance must have lost perspective. No one is bigger than the system. And those of us who love music know that when you meet the devil at the crossroads, the deal he offers you isn’t worth it. We live in the age of transparency. The truth ultimately is revealed. Whether your ego blinds you from the pain you may cause in Cleveland, or you are addicted to sex with women other than your wife, or you take steroids that make you ride faster than anyone, the truth shall be revealed. It’s tragic to see so may icons fall from grace, but that’s the age we live in. And we will always believe in the “next” one. Come on Mike Trout, Andrew Luck and Kevin Durant. Don’t let us down.

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Athletes Are (and always will be) Role Models

I’m in the midst of a week long camping trip on Catalina Island with my 11 year old son. He’s a 1st year Boy Scout and is being challenged like never before. Sleeping outside, riding mountain bikes on 7 mile challenges, rowing canoes for 5 miles, eating camp food. Far from the comforts of Pacific Palisades, CA.

The first night was brutal. He was assigned to a tent with a friend, but the tent was more of a shelter than an actual tent. No walls, just a roof. The camp is notoriously infested with red foxes who rummage through the tents at night looking for random Kit Kat and Snicker bars. Dads and other adults sleep in a different camp. The boys are on their own.

My son was really anxious as bedtime approached. My words of comfort did little good. After several attempts to calm him, I tried something different. I brought up our favorite team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. I asked him how Big Ben and Troy Polomalu might feel on the first day of training camp. He said he thought they might be stressed, knowing the coming week would be really tough. I asked him about all of the time Ben and Troy had put in all of their lives leading up to that moment. About all of the pain, tears, injuries, sacrifices. He started to think about all of the challenges that his heroes had faced in their journeys. He began to feel better and made it through that rough first night.

So as much as I would love to be his role model, that will have to wait until he is older. For now, his role models are Big Ben and Troy P. He worships them. They inspire him. Whether they know it or not, they do the same for thousands of kids all over the country. They are his role models, and I’m grateful that he has them to inspire him.

We are now more than half way through the week on the island. Things are going great. He is having the time of his life, and doing things I never thought I would see him do. Thanks Ben and Troy. I owe you one.

Posted in Athlete marketability, Athlete Marketing, Sports Marketing, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Tebowmania

Is Tebowmania symbolic of U.S. in 2012?

Reprint. Originally Published in Sports Business Journal, January 30, 2012, Page 24

Most of us love sports because at some point in our lives, an athlete performed an act of such heroic proportions that we became sports fanatics for life. That moment sticks with us forever. These personalities drive the popularity of spectator sports. They keep us watching, attending and debating. Recently, we’ve all witnessed the ascent of one of the most interesting athlete icons of our generation. Tebowmania has swept the nation, crossing over beyond the sports pages and into the mainstream. But is Tebowmania a fad, or will Tim Tebow establish himself as an icon with real staying power?

In spite of his college national championships, his Heisman and his well-known devotion to Christianity, it wasn’t long ago that he was just one of many intriguing personalities in sports. But when he took over the starting job in Denver, and led the team to the playoffs, Tebowmania “went viral.” During the Broncos’s 7-4 run, Tebow averaged 150 passing yards per game. Hardly the stuff that legends are made of.

But he captured our imaginations. Whether it was his fourth-quarter come-from-behind victories or his “Tebowing” postgame posture, everyone was talking about him. An improbable thumping of the defending AFC champion Steelers in the first round of the playoffs sent Tebowmania into the stratosphere. The victory resulted in more than 9,000 tweets per second on Twitter. Tebow finished the season as the No. 11 most admired man in the U.S., with the No. 2-selling jersey in the NFL, and the most popular athlete in America in ESPN’s annual poll.

How marketable is he?

Four key components determine athlete marketability. At BDA, we measure athlete marketability as follows: athlete marketability = (talent + success) + (integrity + charisma)

The first two components are on the field, and are listed first because traditionally they carry the most weight. The next two components express the importance of the athlete as an individual. Brands want to affiliate with talented, successful and charismatic spokespeople who their consumers can trust.

In Tebow’s case, talent continues to be the component most questioned by his detractors. Yet his marketability overcomes talent issues because he is so strong in the other critical areas. He is a winner. Above all, however, it is Tim Tebow the person that makes him so appealing to brands. Countless articles on Tebow produce the same descriptives: humble, charming, wholesome, selfless, hardworking, authentic. Brands today are risk-averse when it comes to endorsement deals. Tebow’s success, combined with his character and personality, make him an extremely marketable athlete.

In an August 2010 article, I wrote about the “Tiger Recession” and expressed my belief that in the wake of controversies surrounding Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Tiger Woods, brands would focus much more on character than ever before. Brands are insisting that their athlete spokespeople demonstrate character and integrity. Tebow’s well-known humility, generosity and selflessness are exactly what brands are looking for in 2012. Perhaps talent and success mean less to brands today than they used to.

Or maybe it isn’t just about Tebow. Perhaps Tebowmania is indicative of America in 2012. People have been kicked around by unemployment, shrinking retirement accounts and disappearing equity in their homes. Tebow has been kicked around, too. In spite of it, he stays focused, humble and faithful. In a way, he represents many Americans trying to fight on in the face of very challenging times. Perhaps we are shifting away from our obsession with wealth and glamour. If the country is indeed moving toward “regular guy” heroes, then Tebow will likely become an athlete icon with real staying power.

Tebow’s outspoken devotion to Christianity makes him polarizing, generally something brands try to avoid. Yet somehow he doesn’t come across as preachy. His faith doesn’t seem to bother Jockey, Nike or FRS, and I think more brands will jump aboard. And Tebow will absolutely need to continue winning to maintain his stratospheric marketability. Regardless of his success, I believe Tebow has established himself as a public figure who brands will have interest in associating with for many years to come.

Bill Sanders (bsanders@bdasports.com) is chief marketing officer at BDA Sports Management and author of the blog “An Athlete Marketing Guy” at http://www.athletemarketingguy.com.

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It’s All About The Organization

It’s easy to feel compassion for the plight of the small market team. Fewer potential  ticket buyers, fewer potential sponsors, smaller TV audience, departing superstars. How does a small market compete against their big city rivals?

Last year’s NBA and NFL lockouts focused on the issue. New revenue sharing arrangements were supposed to help small markets play on more equal footing, allowing them to spend equivalent money on player salaries in spite of lower revenues. In the NBA, the new arrangement did nothing to prevent superstar players from bolting out of small markets as soon as they could. Seemed like nothing, not even CBA rules directly addressing the issue, could prevent big market teams from having a huge advantage.

But if you ignore the sensationalist stories about CP3, Melo, Lebron and Amare all bolting for the bright lights of the big city, you find something completely surprising. Look at the standings in the NBA today. On Feb 2, 2012, the teams playing above .500 include: Oklahoma, San Antonio, Houston, Denver, Portland, Utah, Memphis and Indiana. In the meantime, the star studded New York Knicks are 8-13. The NFL is no different. This year, two big city teams (NY and NE) square off in the Super Bowl. But last year, it was PIT and GB. In Major League Baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals are the current World Series Champs. Market size seems much less relevant that we might think.

Far more interesting to me is the fact that organizations that win tend to do so perennially. The Spurs (NBA), Cardinals (MLB) and Steelers (NFL) are always good. The Denver Nuggets appeared to be doomed when Melo left. But today they are just 3 games out of first place in their division. When this year’s NFL playoffs began, 8 of the 10 teams that qualified had previously won at least 1 Super Bowl. By conference championship weekend, each of the remaining 4 teams had previously won the big one at least once, with three of the 4 having won multiple Lombardi’s.

Yes, superstars win championships. Few teams that win it all do so without at least one legitimate superstar. But superstars come and go. Montana, Bradshaw, Favre, Staubach, Magic and Bird all retired, yet their organizations went on to win championships without them.

It’s not about market size. It’s not about superstars. It’s about the organization. Winning organizations find a way to win regardless of roster or market. They win because of outstanding decisions, responsible salary cap management, great coaching, front office consistency and dedication to a team philosophy that doesn’t change. Check out what is happening in Denver, Portland and Utah this year in the NBA. Each team has lost superstars recently, but they continue winning. Small market teams: stop whining. Focus instead on the organization. Look in the mirror. Great management and great corporate environment matters more than things like market size. Winning is in your hands. Market size is beyond your control, but it is not critical to success.

 

 

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