SBJ/March 11 - 17, 2002/Special Report



See the SportsBusiness Journal Behind the Numbers: Most Popular Athlete Endorsers in 2001.

Michael Jordan: the wizard of endorsements.

The market for athlete endorsement deals may have taken a dive in 2001, but the amount of money that was spent in that sector of the industry sustained its size from previously signed deals.

"The market is lukewarm right now," said Rob Urbach, executive vice president at SFX Sports Group, which represents more than 500 athletes. "But we've also been in a lukewarm economy, so everyone's much more selective."

That selectivity, in part, is changing the nature of some agreements. Deals being done are shorter and often for fewer dollars.

"Budgets are so much tighter that instead of doing one promotion with a promise they'll find something for the athlete in year two and three, they want a one-year deal with an option," said Patrick McGee, director of athlete marketing at Octagon.

Feeding the hopes of many for the future are the twin prospects that budgets are loosening up as the economy improves and the promise of incremental millions as pharmaceutical marketing moves into the mainstream despite its inherent challenge of being a heavily regulated industry.

"It feels like we're past the worst and everybody is talking about prescription drugs as kind of a savior," said Marc Perman, vice president/director of client services at IMG. "We're definitely doing more deals with them, but people forget how much more difficult it is. It's simple for Pepsi to sign an endorser. For GlaxoSmithKline, it's a much more time-consuming deal."

The economic slowdown, however, did little to quell the myth about endorsements that for every hot athlete there are half a dozen national campaigns waiting. That's especially true for the current year, coming off the Winter Olympics.

"Post-Olympics, everyone wants to know who the big endorser coming out of the Olympics will be," said USA Track & Field CEO Craig Masback. "But most people can't tell you a single athlete with a national ad deal other than [Michael] Jordan."

— Terry Lefton

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