SBJ/November 12 - 18, 2001/Marketingsponsorship

Burger King deal would pit Shaq vs. McKobe

Los Angeles Lakers superstars Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant are feuding again, but not on the basketball court.

Burger King is close to signing O'Neal to a multiyear, multimillion-dollar endorsement deal just nine months after fast-food competitor McDonald's hired teammate Bryant.

O'Neal, the NBA champion Lakers' 7-foot, 1-inch center, is expected to appear in a series of television commercials, sources said. Bryant has already appeared in ads for McDonald's.

Burger King did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

O'Neal and Bryant feuded publicly last season over who should be the focus of the Lakers' offense. The two have since patched up their differences.

The pairing of Burger King and O'Neal following McDonald's acquisition of Bryant reflects a recent trend in athlete endorsements, said Bob Williams, president of Burns Sports Celebrity Service Inc., a firm that matches athlete endorsers with advertisers.

A similar scenario played out in the late 1990s when American Express hired Tiger Woods, Visa signed Jack Nicklaus and MasterCard International inked Tom Watson all around the same time, Williams said.

"I see this follow-the-leader everywhere in sports endorsements," Williams said. "When one company in an industry that is very competitive hires an athlete, it is not long until another company in that industry comes along and hires an athlete of like or greater value."

It is also not the first time in recent memory that fast-food competitors have each hired star athletes who play on the same team as endorsers. In the mid-1990s, McDonald's hired then Chicago Bull Michael Jordan at the same time Carl's Jr. employed Bulls bad boy Dennis Rodman.

Also in the mid-1990s, Coke and Pepsi each hired Dallas Cowboys players to pitch products. Coke first hired Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith, while Pepsi hired Deion Sanders.

Williams called Burger King "a good fit" for O'Neal. "He is very popular with the demographics [Burger King] wants," Williams said. "They are after kids, teen-agers ... in the hopes they will bring in the parents and the families."

O'Neal parted ways with longtime agent Leonard Armato last month. At the time, industry sources said Armato and O'Neal were close to signing a major endorsement deal with a fast-food company.

Sources could not say how much O'Neal's deal with Burger King would be worth, how long it would last, or when it would be completed. Armato wouldn't comment for this story.

Perry Rogers, O'Neal's new agent who was hired a few weeks ago, said: "Shaquille is very excited to enter into this partnership with Burger King. It is a dynamic group that has great plans and we are proud to be part of those plans."

He declined to comment further.

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