SBJ/20080107/This Week's News

CAA wins eight-firm competition for Jimmie Johnson

Jimmie Johnson, the back-to-back NASCAR champion, has signed Creative Artists Agency to represent him in marketing, licensing and endorsement deals.

Michael Levine, co-head of CAA Sports, will lead a team that will attempt to capitalize on Johnson’s success on the track.

“We look forward to creating new opportunities that draw on his distinctive qualities,” Levine said in a release.

Johnson’s signing is the latest win for CAA Sports, which represents more than 350 athletes, including LeBron James, Derek Jeter, Sidney Crosby, LaDainian Tomlinson, Adrian Peterson and David Beckham.

CAA Sports football agents Tom Condon and Ben Dogra also last week signed Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan, expected to be one of the top quarterbacks in this year’s NFL draft. In recent months, CAA Sports has signed the New York Yankees, the AVP Tour and MMA brand TapouT as well.

Johnson considered eight agencies before selecting CAA Sports and Wasserman Media Group as his finalists.

“We’re confident that working with CAA will greatly enhance our ability to present the Jimmie Johnson brand to a variety of new and exciting marketing partners,” Johnson said.

Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s car, has had a wide range of endorsements and sponsorships in seven seasons with Hendrick Motorsports, including Tylenol, Gatorade, XM and Elizabeth Arden, as well as a spot in the Gillette “Young Guns” program (Gillette and Johnson didn’t renew for 2008).

But John Lewensten, vice president of operations at Jimmie Johnson Racing Inc., said Johnson is seeking corporate relationships that will transcend motorsports. That strategy likely will involve fewer, but more long-lasting endorsements.

Mike Bartelli, president of motorsports for marketing agency Millsport, has signed Johnson to 10 different contracts across five clients, everything from Elizabeth Arden to Sunoco, Pizza Hut and Tylenol.

“He’s the perfect ambassador for every brand he’s been affiliated with,” Bartelli said.

The challenge for CAA will be persuading brands to believe that Johnson can carry a campaign that reaches beyond NASCAR fans.

CAA said it was too early to go into any detailed plans that it has for Johnson.

“If you’re a brand, the reason you invest in Jimmie is that you want his influence with the NASCAR fan base,” Bartelli said. “Outside of the NASCAR fan base, he does not have a lot of pull. ”

The criticism of Johnson is that he’s too vanilla, that not enough of his personality comes across publicly, Bartelli said. Part of that might be attributed to Johnson’s relationship with Jeff Gordon, who has been his mentor since the two became teammates at Hendrick Motorsports seven years ago.

“Jimmie has spent the last seven years looking at the mold that Gordon cut and he realizes that a big part of that is staying in line and saying all the right things,” Bartelli said. “But the guy has won two championships and at this point he should let more of his personality come across and be more of who he is in front of the cameras. ”

How Jimmie Johnson’s celebrity index rates against a sampling of other drivers and sports stars
Tiger Woods
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Jeff Gordon
LeBron James
Brett Favre
Matt Kenseth
Jimmie Johnson
Awareness: Percentage of respondents who are aware of the celebrity by name or face.
Appeal: Likability
Endorsement: Percentage of those who think celebrity is an effective spokesperson.
Source: Davie Brown Index
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