Branding the World of Sports

Archive for July, 2009

Who are the most popular athletes in America?

Posted by ZA on July 30, 2009

Americans love sports, so naturally we love the athletes who play the games.  But which athletes are our favorites?  Who are the top 10 most popular athletes in sports today? The Harris Poll recently released the results of their 2009 survey that asked 2,177 U.S. adults to tell who were their favorite sports stars.

America’s Favorite Male Athletes (2009):
1. Tiger Woods (Golfer)
2. Michael Jordan (Retired, NBA star)
3. LeBron James (Forward, Cleveland Cavaliers)
4. Kobe Bryant (Guard, Los Angeles Lakers)
5. Derek Jeter (Shortstop, New York Yankees)
6. Jeff Gordon (Driver, Nascar)
7. Peyton Manning (Quarterback, Indianapolis Colts)
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Driver, Nascar)
9. Brett Favre (Retired, NFL star)
10. Albert Pujols (Baseball player, St. Louis Cardinals)

America’s Favorite Female Athletes (2009):

1. Serena Williams (Tennis player)
2. Venus Williams (Tennis player)
3. Danica Patrick (Driver, Indy Racing)
4. Candace Parker (Forward, WNBA)
5. Mia Hamm (Soccer star)
6. Maria Sharapova (Tennis player)
7. Annika Sorenstam (Golfer)
8. Chris Everett Lloyd (Retired, Tennis star)
9. Anna Kournikova (Retired, Tennis player & model)
10. Michelle Kwan (Figure skater)

What stands out to me about the lists, particularly among the guys, is the influence that Nike has among the list.  7 of the 10 guys on the list endorse Nike, you could count Brett Favre as an 8th since he endorsed Nike brand, Starter.  The only 2 guys who do not have endorsement deals with Nike are the two Nascar drivers, who wouldn’t be a target for a shoe/apparel endorsement deal.  So you could say that Nike has a clean sweep of the eligible males.  Among female favorite athletes Nike’s percentage drops down a bit, but they still have four of the top 10 and the #1 overall.  Serena Williams, Mia Hamm, Maria Sharapova and Chris Everett Lloyd all cash endorsement checks signed by Phil Knight.

Other brands are well represented; Gatorade has deals more than half of the two lists.  That number is even greater if you factor in all of the Pepsico clients, Gatorade’s parent company, on the two lists.  Nike’s chief competitor, Adidas, also has a couple of current (Parker) or former endorsers (Kournikova) on the list.

But no brand is as well represented on the two lists as Nike.  The question it brings up is whether Nike’s marketing is helping to make these stars more popular or whether Nike has just picked the most popular athletes?  My thought is that it’s a bit of both.  Nike has always been one of the innovative marketers in sports.  They’ve revolutionized the game of sports marketing with campaigns they built around athletes, starting with Michael Jordan and continuing today through Tiger Woods.

Consider that Nike did not even make golf shoes or clubs prior to signing Tiger in 1996.  Nike’s original endorsement contract with Tiger Woods was $40 million dollars over five-years, which was then followed by a five year, $100 million dollar extension.  But their spending did not stop there, Nike has spent tens of millions more to promote their association with Tiger Woods.  And for their efforts, it’s estimated that Nike Golf pulled in $725 million in sales in 2008.  Through their endorsement deal and promotion, Nike essentially created a new billion dollar revenue stream for the company.  That type of innovative marketing will generate the cash to pay for a lot of endorsement deals.

And Nike has never been shy about spending for top talent.  They signed quasi lifetime endorsement deals with a few of the top names (Jordan, Woods & Serena Williams) to make sure they locked up their stars.  Other deals might as well be lifetime contracts because you won’t see Jeter or Sharapova pitching anyone else’s shoe brand anytime soon.  And Nike jumps at the chance whenever their has been an opportunity to add a big, new star to their roster.  Just recently they solidified long-term agreements with two members of the top 10 list above who happen to be the most popular players in the NBA; LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.

All of the athletes above are some of the biggest stars in sports; a feat they achieved because of their superior talent and lots of hard work.  But to ascend to the top of the list of America’s favorite athletes also requires a little help from sponsors.  And from their dominance on the two lists, it appears that Nike is a really good sponsor to have.

Posted in Athletes, Endorsement Deals, Gatorade, Golf, MLB, Nascar, NBA, NFL, Nike, Sports Brands, Sports Marketing | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Only a select few to endorse Wheaties

Posted by ZA on July 28, 2009

In the 80+ years that General Mills has marketed Wheaties there have been thousands of great athletes featured on their boxes of cereal.  Everyone from Andre Agassi to Kristi Yamaguchi have been featured on the front of the famous orange box.  Being selected to appear on the cover of a box of Wheaties is quite an accomplishment; one that only the best athletes and teams will ever experience.

But as prestigious as it is to appear on a Wheaties box, it is even more so to be named a spokesperson for the iconic brand.  Wheaties has only had 7 athletes who were selected to serve as spokesperson for their product.  They are all athletes who transcended their sport and were famous around the globe.  The seven Wheaties spokespersons are athletes who excelled both on and off the field.

Athletes who served as Spokesperson for Wheaties:
* Bob Richards (Pole Vaulter)
* Bruce Jenner (Track & Field)
* Mary Lou Retton (Gymnast)
* Walter Payton (Football player)
* Chris Evert (Tennis)
* Michael Jordan (Basketball)
* Tiger Woods (Golf)

There are not published details on how much these athletes were paid by Wheaties to endorse their product.  But the distinction of being a spokesperson for a brand so closely linked to sports greatness is surely a thrill for each of these star athletes.

Full list of athletes who have appeared on a Wheaties box.

Posted in Athletes, Endorsement Deals, Sports Brands | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Lance Armstrong rides alone in 2010

Posted by ZA on July 22, 2009

Lance Armstrong is going to ride for a new, Amercian-based sponsor when he suits up for the Tour de France in 2010.  Armstrong is heading to the new team, along with his long-time team manager, Johan Bruyneel.  Together the duo is sure to form one of the top cycling teams in the World.

The move is most likely a result of Lance not wanting to share the spotlight with his current teammate, Alberto Contador. The two star rides are on the same team (Astana) this year, which has caused a minor controversy about who should be the lead dog on the team.  Ultimately it seems that Armstrong conceded that power struggle to Contador and is helping his teammate to win the 2009 Tour de France.

I think when Lance returned this year, he might have initially thought playing a role in helping someone else win would be a good thing.  But I think Lance’s performance in the Tour has shown him that he’s still got what it takes to win the toughest race in the World…thus proving wrong some of the idiot writers that said he should race again (i.e.- me).

So even though the 2009 race is not yet complete, I am already looking forward to the huge rivalry that will take place next year.  I expect Armstrong and Contador to emerge as bitter rivals in 2010, both trying to defeat the other and win the race.  This year they both played nice and showed respect for each other because they are on the same team.  Next year, as opponents, I think the gloves will come off.

Lance knows he can win another Tour de France.  And now he knows that Alberto Contador might be the biggest thing standing in the way of that goal.  I’m hoping for a ride for the ages in 2010.  This year has been fantastic to watch, but the I just escape the feeling that Lance is conceding to Contador because they are teammates.  I want to see the two of them compete and hopefully watch Lance win.

Posted in Athletes, Sponsorship Deals | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Which athletes are the talk of Twitter?

Posted by ZA on July 17, 2009

If you love sports, you probably talk about them online these days.  The water cooler conversations of yesteryear have almost all gone online today.  There are myriads of options to share your personal opinions on players, teams or leagues.  You can blog about sports, leave comments on a written article, chat on a message board or write updates via Twitter.  There is an infinite amount of sports chatter online today.

Sports chat got its start online with message boards that came into their own a decade ago.  These early communities are often not talked about when people are talking about social media, but they were where the online conversations about sports started.  And many of these online message boards (now referred to as communities) are huge today, just like at the college sports focused or  Each of them boast tens of thousands of paying members and millions of conversations about sports.

These days there are also more people blogging about sports (like me) and more people using other social media sites to share their opinions.  But it is no longer just the media and fans participating in these conversations.  These days the athletes who are the topic behind many of the conversations are involved as well.  Many athletes are using Twitter, Facebook and the like to share their views on the sports world.  This allows the conversations to come full circle, where often fan and athlete are talking together.

So in this ever evolving online world, which are athletes are subject to the most chatter?  Who are the athletes getting the most buzz from the blog-sphere today?  Vitrue has come up with a way to measure which athletes receive the most mentions via social media (e.g.- Twitter) and other online methods.  From that they produced a list of the top 25 “social athletes”.  Below are their rankings for July 2009:

Top 25 Social Athletes
1. Lance Armstrong
2. Tony Hawk
3. Roger Federer
4. Ronaldinho
5. Michael Phelps
6. Dwight Howard
7. David Beckham
8. Valentino Rossi
9. Lebron James
10. Michael Jordan
11. Maria Sharapova
12. Serena Williams
13. Rafael Nadal
14. Kobe Bryant
15. Paul Pierce
16. Usain Bolt
17. Tiger Woods
18. Ryan Sheckler
19. Shaquille O’Neal
20. Manny Pacquiao
21. Yao Ming
22. Dwayne Wade
23. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
24. Stewart Cink
25. Muhammad Ali

What is interesting about the list is to see how some athletes are embracing social media to keep their names in the conversations.  Would you normally expect to see Stewart Cink on a list next to Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan and Roger Federer?  Probably not, but Cink is doing an excellent job of keeping himself involved in the conversations on the web.  Same with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was a legend in his day but has slipped from the limelight for over a decade.  Kareem has done a terrific job of building a following in social media by embracing vehicles like Twitter, where he has way more followers than most active NBA stars.

The lesson to be learned if you are an athlete.  Keep your name in the conversation, by getting out there and participating.  Loads of athletes are doing that today and many of them are starting to become more of household names because of that effort.  Long-term that could pay off in more success on the field or big endorsements off the court, because they already have a big fan following.

Posted in Athletes, Golf, Internet, NBA, Sports Brands, Sports Marketing | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Samsung renews sponsorship of Chelsea

Posted by ZA on July 16, 2009

One of the highest visibility team sponsorships in the World was renewed for another 3 years when Samsung extended their deal with Chelsea Football Club.  Chelsea is the English Premiere League juggernaut owned by Russian billionaire, Roman Abramovich.  The team has a huge following throughout the world and has a roster full of some of the most famous names in the sport, including; Michael Ballack, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Michael Essien.  Chelsea won the FA Cup in 2009 and is playing a series of exhibition matches (aka: friendlies) in the United States this Summer.  Including a huge, sold out, match with Italian team, AC Milan, in Baltimore on July 24th.  These traveling tours are a great opportunity for Samsung to stretch even more value out of their sponsorship of the football club.  Chelsea has worn kits sponsored by Samsung since 2005.

Posted in Soccer, Sponsorship Deals | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Mutiny in the LPGA?

Posted by ZA on July 9, 2009

I thought ships were the only place where mutiny occurred.  Turns out the golf course and corporate offices of the LPGA are another place where mutiny is still an option.  That is because a group of top LPGA golfers has banded together to other throw their Commissioner, Carolyn Bivens.

Advertising Age has more on the story, but it because appears that these golfers feel Bivens is directly responsible for the loss of sponsors for key LPGA events.  There are more than a dozen female golfers attacking the LPGA Commish include top stars: Paula Creamer, Natalie Gulbis and Lorena Ochoa.  They are asking that Bivens “resign immediately” due to the loss of key sponsors.  Only 10 of 27 tournaments for 2010 have sponsors lined up at this point.

The AdAge article paints a picture of Bivens as someone who has a rocky tenure as Commissioner.  She has had some media missteps and driven a hard line with sponsors, which perhaps has led some of them to jump ship.  It also says that Bivens has not gotten along well with some of the LGPA tour’s biggest stars; presumably the same ladies who are now asking her to step down.  Those three items can be a recipe for disaster if you are running a professional sports league during these troubled economic times.

If this mutiny unfair to Commissioner Bivens?  Is the LPGA leadership being treated unfairly? No, the players have a right to demand top performance from their league executives.  The finances of the golfers are directly tied to the success of the league, more so in golf than in other team sports (e.g.- NFL, NBA).  If the Bivens cannot sell sponsorships, then the LPGA Board of Directors needs to find a leader who can.

Most companies have contracted their marketing budgets over the past 12 months, or at the very least gotten very careful with their spending.  But there are still a large pool of businesses which would be willing to spend money to promote their brand next to the top female golfers in the World.  Grocery chain Hy-Vee was a title sponsor for a televised triathlon this past weekend; they are a $7 billion company that could sponsor an LPGA tournament in the same way that Kroger, Safeway and CVS have done.  There are a variety of Houston-based corporations that could be signed up as title sponsor of the upcoming LPGA Tour Championship at the Houstonian Golf & Country Club.  Or the LPGA could approach large female owned corporations to back the all female golf tour.

In-short there are plenty of deals available to the LPGA, even in these challenging economic times.  They will not be easy to land, but the LPGA is in a position where it can be creative because it has so much open opportunities.  Plus LPGA golfers are willing to do their part to make sponsors happy; mingling with sponsors at events, showing up for parties hosted by them and doing whatever is necessary to keep them on-board.  By comparison can you imagine David Stern asking Rasheed Wallace to show up to an event hosted by an NBA sponsor?  It wouldn’t happen.

To me it just sounds like Carolyn Bivens is not the right person to led the LPGA.  And if that is right, then the golfers asking her to step down have the right idea in-mind.  My best to Bivens family, but perhaps parting ways is best for everyone involved.  She’s lost the backing of her biggest stars, the sponsors are leaving in droves – best for her to get out now (somewhat voluntarily) before things really get ugly.

Posted in Golf | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Memo to Orrin Hatch regarding BCS

Posted by ZA on July 8, 2009

The distinguished Senator from Utah (Orrin Hatch) took his case against the BCS to Washington DC this week.  Hatch and his supporters from Utah are claiming the BCS is an unfair monopoly that discriminates against the non-BCS conference schools.  Hatch wants the BCS system struck down and replaced with a playoff that evens the playing field for all college football schools.

It is obvious that Hatch is pursuing this matter because a large number of his constituents are upset that the University of Utah was left out of the BCS National Championship Game even though they were undefeated.  Their rage was furthered when the Utes steamrolled the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl, capping an undefeated season for Utah.  Hatch has said this matter is worthy of the U.S. Senates time because sports are a big business, and the Sherman Antitrust Law is in-place to protect all businesses.

While I share Hatch’s preference for a college football playoff and admire his desire to even the playing field in NCAA sports.  I don’t think he’s got a snowballs chance in hell of making real changes to the BCS.  Perhaps he can be credited with lending a big voice to the playoff movement, but neither his objections nor the entire state of Utah’s are enough to change the BCS.  The BCS is not a system that was created to be equally fair to ever Division I university.  The BCS was created to make money for the power conferences that are the majority money makers in college football.  The major television networks are not lining up to shell out millions of dollars to get games with Utah & New Mexico State.  ESPN, Fox, etc. all want to see the marquee college football schools like Texas, Florida, Ohio State and Alabama in the big games.  Those are the teams that the large corporate sponsors want as well.  And unfortunately for Utah, money is what makes the BCS go round.  So until the television networks & corporate sponsors prefer to see smaller schools in the biggest games, the current system is unlikely to change.

Plus Senator Hatch was making his argument in the wrong place; Washington DC wasn’t the right city for this pitch.  Everyone who knows college football knows that Birmingham, Alabama is the center of the college football world.  Birmingham is, of course, the home of the SEC Conference headquarters.  Everyone knows the SEC is the straw that stirs the drink in college football.  Head on down to Alabama, Senator Hatch, then you’ll be in the right place to try to bring about change.

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Citi Field is gorgeous, but has too many advertisements

Posted by ZA on July 1, 2009

I was in New York City last week for work and took the opportunity to visit the new home of the New York Mets, Citi Field.  I was a guest of our work partners, NBC Sports, so I was treated to fantastic seats in row 1 behind the visitor dugout.  The seats not only afforded a great view of the action on the field, they also provided access to the array of clubs in the stadium.  So I feel like I got a complete look at what Citi Field has to offer, and I came away extremely impressed.

I had heard from friends who have been to both new baseball stadiums in New York, that the aesthetics of Citi Field blow away those of new Yankee Stadium.  And after visiting the new stadium in Queens, I can see why people have been impressed with the Mets new home field.  The architecture is impressive, the views from the seats are all great and the amentities are all first-class.  But there was one thing I didn’t like; Citi Field has too much signage on the outfield walls.

I should start by saying that I’m an advocate of teams & stadiums doing sponsorship deals.  I believe they are an essential ingredient for teams/venues to make money today.  But I also think there is a fine line between effective stadium sponsorship deals and overkill.  The Mets and Citi Field have sold too many sponsor positions on their outfield wall.  It doesn’t detract from the game, but I don’t feel that having that many brands listed is doing their sponsors any favors.  Corporations buy these ad placements to promote their their brand, but few probably enjoy being squeezed in between dozens of other sponsor logos.  The clutter kills a lot of the effectiveness that could have been garnered from the sponsorship deals.  Overselling the space also puts name brand sponsors like Budweiser and Pepsi next to off-beat ads for, Buy US Gold, and the NYC union represented the construction workers who built Citi Field.  I’m sure execs from Anaheiser-Busch and Pepsico are not thrilled with their placements.

Below are photos of the abundant stadium signage at Citi Field in New York.  During a quick count of the sponsors on the outfield wall I counted over 30 different brands, including; Budweiser, Chevrolet, Dunkin Donuts, FoxBusiness, Geico, Pepsi, Planters, Subway & Verizon.

Citi Field has over 30 sponsors on outfield walls

Citi Field has over 30 sponsors on outfield walls

Too many ads are one of the only drawbacks of Citi Field

Too many ads are one of the only drawbacks of Citi Field

It was a great experience at Citi Field, but Mets executives should consider thinning out the number of sponsors they display so prominently on the outfield walls.

Posted in MLB, Sponsorship Deals, Stadium Signage, Venue Information | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Top 10 Richest Athletes in the World

Posted by ZA on July 1, 2009

The economies of the World may be slumping, but the business of sports is still booming.  The top leagues, teams and athletes will all still be pulling in plenty of money this year.  From rich team contracts, to astronomical earnings, to lucrative endorsement deals.  There will be lots of cash pouring into the bank accounts of the top athletes in sports.   But which athletes are the richest?  Which are the top earning athletes in the World today?  CNNSI has recently released their 2009 list of the Fortunate 50, which is a list of the 50 top earning athletes in the United States.  They also published their list of the top 20 earning International athletes.  Below is a compilation of the two lists, so it is a list of the top 10 earning athletes in the World today.

Top Earning Athletes in World:
1. Tiger Woods ($99MM)
2. Phil Mickelson ($52MM)
3. David Beckham ($45MM)
4. Lebron James ($42MM)
5. Kimi Raikkonen ($40.1MM)
6. Manny Pacquiao ($40MM)
7. Lionel Messi ($39.9MM)
8. Alex Rodriguez ($39MM)
9. Fernando Alonso ($35MM)
9. Valentino Rossi ($35MM)
9. Shaquille O’Neal ($35MM)
10. Kevin Garnett ($34.7MM)


Posted in Athletes, Endorsement Deals, Golf, Money, NBA, Soccer | Tagged: , , , | 29 Comments »