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Experience counts considerably in sports and in the Sports Q Scores upon which hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of annual advertising decisions are based. The latest round of Sports Q Scores are complete, and just three of the athletes achieving the highest scores are still active pros. The others are sports royalty.
As is always the case, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods head the field. Coach/commentator/video game impresario John Madden finished third overall, well ahead of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Peyton Manning. Other standard bearers for the retired set are NHL career scoring leader Wayne Gretzky, whose 32 Sports Q placed him well ahead of the league’s marketing icons Alex Ovechkin (20) and Sidney Crosby (18).
The survey, which asks consumers to rate roughly 500 sports personalities, is mailed annually to a national representative sample of 2,000 people who identify themselves as being “interested in sports.” Marketing Evaluations, the Manhasset, N.Y., research firm that owns and has operated the Q Score franchise since 1963, also does Q Scores for celebrities, brands, companies, TV shows and characters.
On again/off again NFL quarterback Brett Favre and 14-time Olympic gold-medalist Michael Phelps provided two of the more intriguing results this year. After a British tabloid published photos of Phelps inhaling from a bong in late January, the topic of his value and effectiveness as an endorser was widely debated, both in the mainstream press and in marketing circles. However, Phelps’ positive Q increased from 22 to 32 and his negative score decreased from 22 to 19.
“It seems like Phelps is pretty Teflon,” said Steven Levitt, president of Marketing Evaluations. “You smoke some pot and apparently it’s not as terrible as being a little wishy-washy, like Brett Favre.”
Favre, now in the midst of some very public equivocation concerning whether he will return for his 19th year in the NFL, saw his positive Q, which measures “likability,” plummet from 44 to 26, while his negative Q (“don’t like”) more than doubled, from 9 to 20. Does that mean America wants Favre to stay retired? “Those scores are a reaction to the indecision about Favre’s possible return, coupled with the second half of his season with the [New York Jets], which was terrible,” Levitt said.
Nonetheless, the NFL’s popularity is very much in evidence, with four of the top eight Sports Q Scores tallied by NFL figures. Madden had a 40; Montana and Manning (the top-scoring active NFL player) each had a 35, as did Rice. Ben Roethlisberger’s second Super Bowl win only hiked his Sports Q slightly, from 20 to 23.
Nolan Ryan’s 37 and Cal Ripken Jr.’s 35 topped the MLB category. Albert Pujols is the top active player with a 26. Derek Jeter, widely regarded as the game’s most marketable player, saw his positive Q decrease from 28 to 20, where he is now tied with Mariano Rivera. Additionally, Jeter’s negative Q of 26 now exceeds his positive score.
After Jordan’s top score and Julius Erving’s 32, the top NBA athlete score was LeBron James’ 31, an increase of five for him over the prior year. As always, Tony Hawk had the highest score of any action sports athlete with a 26. However, Shaun White and Bam Margera followed closely with 25s. The Williams sisters were tops among all tennis players: Serena had a 24 and Venus a 23. Among golfers, Woods’ 44 was well ahead of the rest of the field. Arnold Palmer had a 31, Jack Nicklaus a 29 and Greg Norman a 20. On the women’s side, Paula Creamer’s 17 topped the leader board, while Natalie Gulbis was second with a 16.
IF THE SHOES FIT: We continue to be amazed at the softness of the footwear endorsement market, but not everyone is. “When you look at the layoffs at Nike, Adidas and Reebok and their [recent] financials, we can’t say this is something we didn’t anticipate,” said Phil de Picciotto, president of the athletes and personality division at Octagon, which represents three first-round NFL picks. “Overall, we see less certainty and less willingness from brands in the athlete endorsement market, but there’s still opportunity, especially at the high end, if you build the right platforms.”
After a considerable search, we have found one signing of note: Nike signed former USC quarterback Mark Sanchez to a four-year deal. Sources said that while the Eager Beavertons have been trimming their endorsement roster (and cutting staff, for that matter), they were attracted by Sanchez’s potential ability to attract Hispanic consumers, and the fact he will be playing in the country’s biggest media market for the New York Jets. Athletes First reps Sanchez.
For the rest of the year’s freshman class in the NFL and the NBA, it’s an interesting game of cat and mouse.
“I’ve never seen it anywhere near this soft,” said a senior marketer at one of the largest footwear brands. “We’re seeing some holding out entirely, thinking they can get more next year, if the market turns around. Of course, then you risk losing your place in line to some high-profile rookies [in the] next draft, or basing the value of your deal on the rookie year.”
CAA Sports reps nine NFL first-rounders, though not all for marketing. CAA agent R.J. Gonser said the entire endorsement market is an altogether different animal because of the recession.
“We still think the money will be there for the top skill position guys, but sitting out a year is an option we’ll consider for some,” he said. “This is a time when your deals have to be creative, from back-end payments to sales participation. When you have some size and leverage like we do, you can also try to use your leverage and bring to bear the power of all your athletes on any one brand.”
COMINGS & GOINGS: Former NFLer Ariane Romano is moving to Phillips-Van Heusen in New York City as director of sponsorship activation. The company owns a stable of apparel brands, including Calvin Klein, Bass and Izod, the latter of which has sponsorships that include naming rights to the home arena of the New Jersey Nets and an IRL deal. … Mike Fagen is joining to The Hanger Network as vice president, worldwide distribution. The company makes cardboard hangers from recycled materials and sells the space on these “bedroom billboards” to marketers. Fagen helps to lead their charge into sports. The former WFAN and YES Network marketer has been with Arena Media Networks since September 2007.
Terry Lefton can be reached at email@example.com.