SBJ/December 19-25, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

Texans running back outgains his contract with off-field deals

Terry Lefton
Anyone who leads the NFL in rushing generates both the proverbial clouds of dust and a bunch of clippings in his wake. Certainly that’s been true of Houston Texans running back Arian Foster, who covered with speed, elegance and aplomb the gap from undrafted free agent in 2009 to leading the NFL in rushing with 1,616 yards and 16 touchdowns last season.

Despite missing two games this season to injuries, Foster was still No. 8 in NFL rushing yardage heading into this past weekend’s games.

Arian Foster’s journey from undrafted free agent to the NFL’s leading rusher has given him endorsement opportunities.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
Foster’s Texans are in the playoffs for the first time. The former University of Tennessee running back’s predilection for yoga, philosophy and a workout regime that’s extreme even by the exacting standards of a professional athlete also render him unique in a business in which performers with even the slightest ability claim distinction.

All those impressive running numbers aside, on these pages there’s one statistic that renders Foster incomparable: The NFL’s rushing leader of a year ago earns more off the field than on it, a claim we don’t believe can be made by another NFL player.

As an exclusive-rights free agent, Foster is earning the relatively small proscribed salary of $525,000 this season — the consequence of a senior collegiate year when he was injuredand subsequently not drafted by any NFL team. Off the field, he’s pulling in more than $750,000 annually from a pastiche of deals.

“Arian’s a unique talent in so many ways,” said Jay Wisse, vice president, sports and entertainment properties, at French West Vaughan, a Raleigh-based entertainment PR and marketing shop that recently expanded into sports marketing. “A lot of guys in his position would have held out, but money is not his biggest motivation.”

Wisse is a former marketer for the San Antonio Spurs, the International Hockey League and the Carolina Hurricanes TV Network.

Foster isn’t yet at the center of any huge national ad campaigns, but most of those are reserved for quarterbacks, anyway. He does have a weekly radio show with Houston’s KGOW-AM, part of the Yahoo! Sports Radio Network. He has local deals with Verizon, through which he appears on a handful of Hispanic radio broadcasts, and with Joe Myers Ford, which uses Foster in radio ads.

While he wears spatted Nike cleats on game days, Foster’s footwear and apparel deal is with tiny Boombah.

Foster’s thrice-daily workouts are orchestrated by his older brother Abdul, who went to Florida A&M on a track scholarship; they’ve been packaged as a forthcoming iPhone fitness app. Fuse Science, the maker of nutritional, medical and dietary supplements that recently signed Tiger Woods, also has Foster under contract. There have been smaller deals with EA and wristbands.net and an arrangement through which Foster signed 700 jerseys for the Texas Lottery, a Texans sponsor, as well.

It’s expected the Texans will have to step up during the offseason and relieve Foster of the dubious distinction of being the NFL’s most underpaid player. While we expect Foster’s ancillary income will continue to mushroom, we are fairly certain that by next season his off-field earnings will no longer eclipse his NFL salary.

Priority Sports handles Foster’s on-field contract.

EAGLE SCOUT: We know any number of media agencies that profess to have sports marketing expertise but almost no sports agencies that claim to be media buyers. A year in, Horizon Media’s Scout Sports and Entertainment is proving that the much-discussed, rarely achieved model of a media agency with real sports marketing expertise can work.

“They are giving us a higher level of knowledge in sports marketing versus your average media buyers and planners,” said George Galinsky, vice president of marketing communications at Mohegan Sun, which became a Horizon and Scout client in February. “The bottom line is that they are saving us time and getting us more for our money because of their knowledge base and because they are good negotiators.”

The casino has sponsorships with the New York Yankees, Patriot Place, the Boston Bruins and TD Garden.

Conversely, Geico has a relationship with Horizon that dates back 18 years, but the expressed sentiment is the same. “We’re getting expertise now across sports we just weren’t getting before,” said Bill Brower, Geico’s director of advertising. “We’re getting better valuations, so when someone asks me what a sign is really worth, we have a solid idea. And when it comes to something like … our NHL [sponsorship] renewal, they were able to tear it up, rebuild it and get us a better package than we had.”

Neuman
Scout is providing ROI modeling across Geico’s extensive sports portfolio.

Michael Neuman, who has headed the “agency within an agency” since November 2010, said Scout has grown in size from himself and a lone employee to 10 full-time employees and an additional eight that it shares with Horizon.

Revenue has grown fivefold from early projections, and outside of servicing Horizon clients like Corona, Capital One and History Channel/A&E, Scout has secured new business from the likes of Basketball City, New York City Bike Share and Cotton Inc. and has lent some expertise on new business pitches.

“We have really moved the ball as far as what we can do for our clients in sports,” said Bill Koenigsberg, Horizon founder, president and CEO. “From analytics to integration and expertise across sports, we’re just a lot deeper. And when you have your hand in $400 million in sports [sponsorships and media] annually, that should be an offering because we have that great vantage point. Now we do, and revenues have grown because of it.”

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

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