|Crabtree Among Draft Prospects
Yet To Sign Footwear Deal
Two days before the '09 NFL Player Draft there have been as many sneaker deals signed for the upcoming crop of collegiate talent as there have rookies selected: zero. Across the sports marketing landscape, it is as dead as anyone can remember when it comes to endorsement deals from athletic apparel/sneaker brands for the latest class of NFL freshman. In some prior years, 10 or more deals have been signed by draft week. "There hasn't been a single player signed [to a footwear deal] and I only know of one deal being offered," said agent Mike Ornstein, who is representing Michael Crabtree, one of the Draft's top WR prospects. "No one can believe it, but we don't have a deal done and neither does anyone else." The main culprit, as might be expected, is the economy. "It's dead quiet right now for footwear deals for rookies now compared to this time before the draft any other year," said DeBartolo Sports & Entertainment's Reed Bergman, whose firm reps RB prospect Chris Wells. "And its 100% the economy. We're all hoping that changes after the draft, but it's very tight right now." Numerous industry sources said the decline in retail traffic and footwear sales forced Nike to slash its football marketing budget by $3-4M. With Nike still looking to re-sign some of its incumbent NFL endorsers, including Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald and Saints QB Drew Brees, there is scant attention being given to rookie deals. Most footwear companies have just experienced similar budget cuts. "I've got the checkbook, its just not open," said a senior marketer for one of country's biggest athletic footwear/apparel brands. Under Armour VP/Brand Steve Battista added, "There are three to five good stories in the Draft, but we've never been a company that waves tons of money at players. I don't see that changing this year."
COMPANIES NOT SHOWING MUCH INTEREST: Many agents and footwear marketers were unwilling to talk on the record about the depressed rookie market. However, there was unanimity that footwear companies were showing less interest in draft prospects than at any time in memory. "Nike and Reebok have decided what Coke and Pepsi did several years ago," said an agent for a player who is a likely top-three pick. "They can't afford to bid each other into oblivion." In a draft where a skill player may not be the first overall pick, Illinois-based Burns Entertainment & Sports Marketing President Doug Shabelman said, "No one sees a Reggie Bush/gotta have guy in this draft, as far as an endorser." Shabelman: "There's a general freeze when it comes to athlete endorsements, but the absence of footwear deals, which is where you've often seen the first money being spent on NFL rookies, is another indicator that there's a bit of a stop sign on the sports economy."