How athletes are fighting for endorsement dollars

Brands are becoming more judicious in the way that they choose who to endorse, according to panelists in a discussion about athlete endorsements. The fallout from the Tiger Woods scandal, for example, has caused sponsors to think longer and harder about who they sign and about the language they include in their their contracts.

Athlete Endorsements as a
Strategic Marketing Platform


Rob Candelino, Unilever
Cullen Jones, Olympic swimmer
Matt Mirchin, Under Armour
Evan Morgenstein, Premier Management Group
Jim Tanner, Williams & Connolly
Alan Zucker, IMG Talent Marketing Group

Celebrities and musicians have started to encroach further into the sponsorship realm, as well, adding to the competition for endorsements. “Ten years ago, the celebrities who were getting the big bucks before were saying, ‘Hey, these athletes are encroaching on my space,’” said Unilever’s Rob Candelino. “[Now] these guys are starting to treat themselves like brands. It’s gone full circle.”


U.S Olympic swimmer Cullen Jones said that he thinks of himself as a brand and believes that is what has to happen for athletes to be recognized. When even relatively unknown reality TV stars are competing for deals, agents and brands are focusing more on an organic, authentic match-up and becoming better storytellers.

Quick hits:

Jim Tanner, on what drives marketing: “One of the things we always tell new clients is don’t start with branding. Start with performance. That drives 90 percent of marketing.”

Matt Mirchin, on figuring out what reaches your customers: “As a brand you want to associate yourself with something that resonates with your consumer. From our perspective, Under Armour is all about making athletes better. So it’s nice when entertainers or celebrities wear our product. But we’re going to go right to that sweet spot with the athletes because that’s who resonates with us.”


Candelino, on Unilever's athletes representing Dove Men: “Every one of them has told a story or a sentimental moment that has shaped them as men. We think that has been a winning formula because it resonates with our brand. If we started trying to be a sports brand, then we’ve lost the plot. I think far too often nowadays, brands, particularly ones that don’t have both feet firmly entrenched in sports, subcontract their responsibility of brand equity to the athlete. If you do that, you’re done.”

Allan Zucker, on athlete overexposure: “People talk about overexposure all the time. Whether it’s Tiger Woods or Peyton Manning or Danica Patrick, [they say] 'I see them everywhere.’ Yea, they are everywhere, but people keep calling. So obviously they must be doing something right with their brands or people wouldn’t want to work with them anymore.”

Jones, on using Twitter: “Granted, I might have thoughts that I might want to instantly put out there, [but] It’s not smart to do that. I consider myself a brand.”

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Related Topics:

TES, NTRA, TRAC, Unilever, Under Armour, IMG

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