SBJ/20101004/Marketing/Sponsorship

Neither Vick’s agent nor sponsors are in a rush to sign deals

With Michael Vick performing at a level that has him established as the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, along with a winning record for the team that has him being considered the “cat’s meow” among the club’s fans, the questions must now be asked: About a year and a half after 21 months of incarceration on a federal felony dogfighting conviction, is Vick still radioactive among marketers? If Vick keeps winning, and playing at a level seemingly above that which made him the No. 1 overall NFL draft pick and a three-time Pro Bowler, which brand will be the first to sign him as an endorser?

During his prime years as the Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback, Vick’s endorsement portfolio included EA Sports, Coke/Powerade, Kraft, Rawlings, Hasbro, AirTran and Nike, whose “Michael Vick Experience” TV ads remain one of the best Wieden & Kennedy/Nike efforts.

Joel Segal, who heads football for Lagardère Unlimited, is Vick’s agent. He says that for now, on-field matters are paramount. There have already been some inquiries, however, and should the Eagles’ wins continue, the volume of those inquiries will increase.


C MCGRATH/PHILADELPHIA EAGELS
Michael Vick is receiving positive press both on
and off the field.

“The calls have been coming in, but it’s not something that’s on the front burner for us.” Segal said. “This is something we are taking slowly.”

Philadelphia sports marketers with connections to the Eagles said that while Vick is steadily gaining positive exposure, they wouldn’t counsel corporate clients, or Vick himself, to bathe himself in the off-field limelight yet.

“Someone will sign him, but my advice would be to wait,” said James Robinson, whose Conshohocken, Pa.-based Alliance Marketing Partners services Jefferson Health System’s Eagles sponsorship. “The advantage of signing him early won’t be as important as what could happen if the wheels came off. But for Vick, money won’t be as important as how well the brand fits and what it will do for his overall image.”

Alliance has also handled Eagles sponsorships for the local McDonald’s consortium and Sunoco.

As is often the case on the sidelines, marketers were preaching patience.

“Assuming he continues to perform well, someone will definitely sign him before the end of the year,” said former Eagles director of corporate sponsorships Jeff Long, now an independent marketing consultant. “You don’t want to get caught up in ‘flavor of the minute,’ so I’d certainly inquire, but I wouldn’t do anything until after Christmas.”

Vick has done some public service appearances since returning to the NFL. Last week, he did one at a Philadelphia school with a representative from the Humane Society on behalf of its campaign to eradicate dog fighting. This past Saturday, Vick was scheduled to make what’s believed to be his first commercial appearance since joining the Eagles in 2009: signing autographs at a local mall for memorabilia vendor BC Sports. For $40, he was slated to sign any item.

“That price seems fair for Vick,” said memorabilia pioneer Brandon Steiner of Steiner Sports, “but at this point, he should be doing signings for charity.”

Steiner, who immediately made a $40 charitable contribution (and e-mailed us a PDF of the receipt) to emphasize his point, was one of many who suggested that a cause-marketing program with a brand interested in eventually using Vick would be a wise initial step in reforming the quarterback commercially.


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“Off the field, he should focus 100 percent on community service,” said Andrew Stroth, a Chicago-based attorney who handles marketing for former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. “Business and marketing opportunities will come down the road if he continues to win.”

Tom George, Octagon senior vice president of athlete marketing, handled Vick’s marketing during the QB’s rookie year,

“You’d use him to get attention for a company. It wouldn’t be an ‘endorsement’ in a typical sense,” George said. “Having spent time with him, my belief is he is a quality human being who erred, but I wouldn’t do anything until the playoffs.”

In the meantime, some Philly marketers are taking a critical look. “There’s considerable interest here already,” said Ellen Barkann, whose Score Agency arranged the signing for BC Sports.

“We’re ALL interested to see how soon any sponsor will jump on,” said Marc Bluestein, whose Aquarius Sports & Entertainment in suburban Washington, D.C., handles AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Eagles sponsorship. “If Vick continues to perform at a top level on the field, and since he has shown remorse, he could do good things for the right brands. Athletes are forgiven by consumers, especially NFL athletes. Think of Brett Favre and [an acknowledged addiction to] pain killers or Ray Lewis, who faced murder charges [later dropped].”

Lewis is considered rehabilitated enough for marketing purposes that he’s now in TV ads for conservative packaged goods marketer Procter & Gamble’s Old Spice brand. If Brand Vick were to undergo a similar metamorphosis, shouldn’t we start to ask the same questions about Tiger Woods and Ben Roethlisberger? The two-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback was suspended by the NFL in May for six games (later reduced to four) after he was accused of, but not charged with, sexual assault. Roethlisberger is eligible to return to action Oct. 17.

With Vick set to square off against ex-Eagles quarterback McNabb this past Sunday, however, his case has been the one more in focus.

“If Vick wins the Donovan game,” said Long, “I’d be on the street pitching him the next morning.”

As a rule, marketers are risk-averse; they duplicate more than they originate. The world is crowded with more commercial messages every second. Every marketer glibly speaks of “owning” a property, and redemption is one of sports’ great themes. If Vick continues to play like one of the NFL’s best, it will be fascinating to see whether any brand will risk associating itself with the captivating story of the first man to make the transition from a Leavenworth penitentiary cell to the gridiron at Lincoln Financial Field.

Terry Lefton can be reached at tlefton@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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