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SBJ/April 11-17, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship
Could deal as Viagra spokesman have helped Bonds’ image?
Published April 11, 2011, Page 11
The die is probably already cast, with Roger Clemens, the era’s pre-eminent pitcher, escaping much of the blame that has transformed Bonds into the poster child of steroid abuse. It didn’t have to be this way, but that’s a matter of choice for players who risked (or risk) using the PEDs that have become Bonds’ crucible.
Barry Bonds (left) is on trial for perjury, but sponsors rendered their verdict long ago.
It was the 2001 season, the year Bonds was pursuing and would eventually break the single-season home-run record of 70 set by Mark McGwire three years prior. A month or two into the season, Pfizer sports agency Octagon reached out to Bonds through a variety of sources; Bonds told one of them that he’d already used and enjoyed Viagra. The stigma of admitting use of the drug was not an issue then; ironically, in the perjury trial it is the pro forma issue.
One source involved in the negotiations recalled that terms with Bonds were agreed upon relatively quickly. Other contract points were negotiated over a three-month period, and “by around midway through the season, we had a deal in place,” with plans for an ad or ads that would have broken during the MLB postseason in October, the source said.
Bonds’ unusually toxic combination of celebrity and petulance made him a favorite target of Rick Reilly, then a weekly essayist on SI’s final edit page. The Bonds/Viagra endorsement was killed by an Aug. 21, 2001, column in which Reilly noted that “there’s 24 teammates, and there’s Barry Bonds.” Describing Bonds’ demeanor, which might be graciously characterized as surly, Reilly noted that, “Someday, they’ll be able to hold Bonds’ funeral in a fitting room.” Bonds’ most accomplished teammate at the time, reigning NL MVP Jeff Kent, was described by Reilly as someone “who wouldn’t spit on Bonds if Bonds were on fire.”
Once that column was read by senior executives at Pfizer, it was enough to make the deal go soft. Soon after, Pfizer killed the deal, subsequently mounting a new search that included serious conversations with players Tom Glavine and Matt Williams before settling on Rafael Palmeiro, who signed in the fall and filmed an ad during spring training that debuted during the 2002 season. “My joke was that I did a performance-enhancing drug deal with Palmeiro,” said one marketer involved in the deal. Palmeiro told Congress in 2005 that he’d never taken steroids. He maintained his innocence five months later when MLB suspended him for steroid abuse. Palmeiro, a man with more than 3,000 hits and 500 home runs over 20 years in the big leagues, never had another MLB at bat after the 2005 season. Does all that sound distressingly familiar?
It’s hard to believe anything would have been different if Bonds had been Viagra’s first MLB endorser. Still, anything that humanized Bonds might have helped.
“I suppose the Viagra deal could have helped his image a little, since it’s admitting a problem,” said political advertising consultant Jimmy Siegel, who was executive creative director at BBDO, New York, when the agency filmed a Bonds spot for Charles Schwab in 2002. “But clearly the steroids thing has junked any chance for him as an endorser.”
Scout Sports and Entertainment has about 16 employees, and Michael Neuman, who founded the practice late last year as managing partner of sports, entertainment and events, said the employee count will increase to 25 by the end of 2011. The group buys more than $300 million in sports assets: media, sponsorships and integrated broadcast messaging. With some exceptions, like insurance and other categories where Horizon has large entrenched clients, Scout will able to solicit business from outside the agency, Neuman said. “That was a big impetus for creating a separate brand name,” he said.
Agency clients being serviced by Scout under Neuman and managing directors Joy Seijas and Colleen Fitzgerald include Geico, Horizon’s largest client, which has a multitude of sports sponsorships, including its deals with the NHL and Madison Square Garden, and a number of NFL and college team deals. For The History Channel, Scout negotiated title sponsorship of the Top Gear 300 Nationwide Series Race at Charlotte on May 28. Scout also supports the sports efforts of Crown Imports’ Corona brands, and those of Jack in the Box.
Terry Lefton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.