Former Univ. of Alabama RB Mark Ingram will be featured on the cover of EA Sports' "NCAA Football 12." Ingram won a fan vote, and the cover was unveiled on ESPN2's "First Take" this morning. ESPN's Ducis Rodgers said Ingram "outlasted some pretty good competition," including former Auburn Univ. DT Nick Fairley, former Univ. of Oklahoma RB DeMarco Murray and former Univ. of Washington QB Jake Locker. Ingram: "This is definitely at the top of my list just the fact that the fans voted it. They wanted to see me on the cover, so that's a tremendous honor. I'm really excited about being on the cover and representing EA Sports." Ingram said he was rated "98 overall" in the game, so it "doesn't get much better than that." Ingram: "I think they did me some good justice." Meanwhile, Ingram said he will attend the NFL Draft despite the ongoing lockout. Ingram: "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity just to go up there to Radio City and experience that type of environment with my family and my good friends. It's definitely something I'm looking forward to and something I've been dreaming about my whole life" ("First Take," ESPN2, 4/19)
FIGHT IN THE DAWG: Browns RB Peyton Hillis yesterday completed a startling upset of Packers QB Aaron Rodgers in the semifinals of EA Sports' "Madden NFL 12" cover vote, and will face Eagles QB Michael Vick in the finals. Hillis easily defeated Rodgers, 61% to 39%, while Vick defeated Vikings RB Adrian Peterson by a similarly wide margin, 59-41%. Hillis' candidacy was vigorously supported by the Browns' front office, who sought out fan votes on ClevelandBrowns.com and via the team's social media extensions, even as the league and NFLPA remain locked in a bitter labor dispute. Vick's semifinal win extends his noteworthy, continued re-embrace by the public after his imprisonment on a felony animal cruelty conviction, and also extends his bid to be the first player to make the "Madden" cover twice. Vick, while with the Falcons, appeared on the cover of "Madden NFL 04" (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal). In Minneapolis, Michael Rand notes the final pits "a guy who went into last season with about 400 career rushing yards against a QB whose public profile was seemingly unfixable after his canine-related jail time." Perhaps it is a sign that "underdog stories (Hillis) and tales of redemption (Vick) resonate just as powerfully (if not more so) than tales of flat-out success." Rand: "Either way, Hillis or Vick -- as chosen by fans in voting over the next week -- will be on the cover of one of this generation's most iconic sports video games. Who would have predicted that a year ago?" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 4/19).
LET IT FLY: In Philadelphia, Jeff McLane noted there "has already been some protest over the chances of Vick winning this otherwise innocuous competition." Now he is "one nationwide vote from re-energizing both sides of the debate over the lightning rod quarterback" (PHILLY.com, 4/18). YAHOO SPORTS' Chris Chase wrote, "It's hard to imagine EA Sports had a white running back or convicted felon in mind when it started this contest. ... I don't envy the marketing executive who has to explain to his bosses why Hillis may grace the cover or the PR person who will have to face an onslaught of criticism for celebrating Vick." Still, a Hillis win would "bring a whirlwind of positive attention to him and the game," while Vick's victory would "be accompanied by some controversy, which is not always a negative" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/18). EA Sports President Peter Moore last month at SBJ/SBD's IMG World Congress of Sports spoke about the "Madden" cover vote and stressed that EA will accept who fans vote for, including Vick. Moore said, “The best example for us is that we’ve actually given up control of who the cover athletes are. It’s up to the players to lobby their fans” (THE DAILY).
ESPN yesterday published a list of endorsements held by its personalities, part of the company's ongoing effort to "address news stories and public criticism about the issue," according to Allan Brettman of the Portland OREGONIAN. Footwear and apparel companies, especially Nike, "figure prominently in the list of companies with endorsement deals with ESPN personnel." Nike has deals with 25 ESPN personalities, followed by adidas (six), Under Armour (four) and Reebok and Converse (one each). This list follows "last week's publication of a revised endorsement policy by ESPN" (OREGONLIVE.com, 4/18). USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand notes of the 57 ESPN personalities on the list, only four -- Scott Van Pelt, Erin Andrews, Sal Masekela and Jamie Little -- are "not former players or coaches." Because ESPN exempts its analysts "who are former players and coaches from its new policy," it "won't have many real-world consequences ... and doesn't touch announcers' many endorsements coming from outside the sports world." Hiestand notes the "announcers with the most endorsements come from ESPN's product-driven X Games" (USA TODAY, 4/19). Officials at CBS, Fox, NBC and Turner Sports said that they "would not follow ESPN's lead by listing their announcers' endorsements" on their websites (N.Y. TIMES, 4/19).
Longtime MLB corporate sponsor Pepsi has unveiled a trio of new baseball-themed spots directed by the legendary Joe Pytkaand based on the film "Field of Dreams." The ads include a bevy of baseball talent, such as HOFers Mike Schmidt, Rollie Fingers, Ozzie Smithand Rickey Henderson. "We like to take things that are familiar and naturally engaging to consumers and put a little humor and some Pepsi in it," said Pepsi Max Senior Marketing Dir Amy Wirtanen, during a showing of the ads from agency TBWA\Chiat\Day at the MLB Fan Cave in Greenwich Village. The ads debuted today and will run in and outside of MLB programming. Digital extensions and POS sampling at retail and ballparks will support the campaign. Additional promotional extensions are likely by promotions at or after midseason. Pepsi has sponsorships with 15 of the 30 MLB teams. Max, Pepsi’s answer to the Coke Zero brand, is now tied to three of Pepsi’s largest sports sponsorships: the NFL, the NHL and MLB. "Max is very young-male focused, so it’s a primary focus of our sports," said PepsiCo Dir of Sports Marketing Mark Rooks. "But we still support our Pepsi brand some with baseball, and Aquafina is tied to our MLB youth and grassroots efforts."
From an endorsement standpoint, Bulls G Derrick Rose "seems ready to become the next Michael Jordan, in Chicago at least," according to Danny Ecker of CRAIN'S CHICAGO BUSINESS. The 22-year-old, a favorite to win this season's NBA MVP award, already has deals with adidas, Powerade and 2K Sports as part of an endorsement portfolio that Burns Entertainment & Sports Marketing estimates to be worth $1.5-2.5M annually. That would rank Rose "just outside the top 10 among NBA players." But in order to "achieve the fame" Jordan did during his Bulls career, not only will Rose "have to sharply craft his public persona in an era dense with sports celebrities and fueled by social media, he must prove himself professionally by winning championships." His "biggest challenge, though, is his own reticence at basking in the glory." Rose, admittedly a shy person, said of becoming a global brand, "Maybe one day. Right now, the playoffs are the only thing I'm worried about. If we win games, everything will take care of itself." Ecker notes Rose's agent, B.J. Armstrong, can "draw experience from his front-row seat" as Jordan's longtime Bulls teammate, though Rose is "building a brand in a far different environment." He has "more than 2 million fans on his Facebook page," but while "seven of the NBA's 10 most-lucrative endorsers manage their own Twitter accounts," Rose does not (CRAIN'S CHICAGO BUSINESS, 4/18 issue).
EAST SIDE STORY: GQ's Wells Tower profiles former NBAer Stephon Marbury under the subhead, "Exiled From The NBA, Vilified By The Press, And Ridiculed For A Series Of Questionable YouTube Videos, Stephon Marbury Is Seeking Redemption -- And Vast Riches -- In Basketball-Mad China." Marbury: "Two years ago, no one would get near me. Now I got (a major American bank) wanting to invest $50 million in my company. Man, China has changed everything for me. Everything." Tower notes "improbable as Marbury's schemes of merchandising/real estate/mobile car wash/import-export magnatehood might sound, it's worth considering that (a) Marbury is arguably the biggest star in the CBA, and (b) in China's increasingly basketball-obsessed but notoriously stingy consumer population, it's hard to imagine a product better poised for success than a celebrity-endorsed sneaker that sells for fifteen bucks." Starbury CFO Gustavus Bass said that Marbury has "so far sunk $10 million of his own pocket cash" into the company, and once Chinese production began, "business was forecast to return profits within a year." Starbury "recently engaged Apple's marketing firm to handle the build-out of their shops," and Bass noted that the brand has "already started churning out a Chinese line of shoes at a cautious volume of 5,000 pairs per month" (GQ, 5/ '11 issue)
The Heritage Tournament Dir Steve Wilmot on Friday said that tournament organizers “don't expect to announce a new title sponsor before the PGA Tour event begins Thursday, although they were engaged in serious discussions with a prospective title sponsor about a month ago,” according to Josh McCann of the Hilton Head ISLAND PACKET. Wilmot said that the company was “booking hotel rooms, preparing to purchase three-quarters of the TV advertising time a sponsor typically receives on the Golf Channel and CBS, and shopping for spots in pro-am events.” But Wilmot added that the deal "fell through" in part because there was "so little time remaining before this year's tournament." PGA Tour officials have said that it is "imperative the Heritage find a sponsor to secure its long-term future." But Wilmot said that tournament organizers “do not have a deadline by which they must do so.” He “expects to host official representatives of about 12 prospective sponsors during tournament week.” PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem “will lead a bevy of tour officials who will help show companies around.” McCann noted it is “not yet clear what will happen to all the advertising time on CBS and the Golf Channel that would normally go [to] a title sponsor” (Hilton Head ISLAND PACKET, 4/18).
HOT ON THE MARKET: In Charlotte, Erik Spanberg notes ’12 PGA Championship organizers said that North Carolina-based companies “account for 20% of the corporate hospitality sales” for the event in Kiawah Island, S.C. Kiawah Island Golf Resort President Roger Warren said, “We’re 17 months out and we’ve sold 70% of our corporate hospitality.” Meanwhile, all but 6% of the general tickets “have been sold, with the rest to be made available this summer.” Organizers are “marketing across both Carolinas and limiting capacity to 27,000 fans per day, compared with crowds of 40,000 to 45,000 for other PGA sites” (CHARLOTTE BUSINESS JOURNAL, 4/15 issue).
BLOOMBERG NEWS’ Holger Elfes notes adidas will “keep the right to supply uniforms” to German soccer club Bayern Munich through '20, “extending a 50-year partnership.” adidas said that Bayern will “sell its new home jerseys beginning May 13.” adidas owns 9.4% of FC Bayern Muenchen AG, the “club-controlled company which operates the commercial soccer department” (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 4/19).
TRI US ON FOR COMFORT: In L.A., Cyndia Zwahlen noted Stephanie Swanson and Kebby Holden last year launched Soas Racing to “design and manufacture athletic tops and shorts for the growing number of women participating in triathlons.” The San Diego-based company’s “first order for 600 pieces, which featured flared tank tops and running shorts with elastic-free waist bands, sold out in January.” The second order was “twice as big, and a third order for 2,000 pieces is being manufactured.” A “major line expansion is underway for fall,” and it will “add swimsuits, cycling jerseys and arm warmers to the line, all designed to mix and match” (L.A. TIMES, 4/18).
EVERYTHING'S BIGGER IN TEXAS: In Houston, Joseph Duarte wrote Meineke Car Care’s three-year deal to title sponsor the Texas Bowl will “make an already established national retailer even more recognizable.” The deal “translates into a nationwide advertising blitz,” as the company will receive “eight 30-second national TV spots” during the game broadcast. Meineke “typically does 15-second ads, so it will be the equivalent of 16 ads during the game.” Driven Brands Chair & CEO Ken Walker, whose company owns Meineke, said, “We believe it’s a good, solid branding opportunity over a long period of time.” Meineke last year ended its title sponsorship of the Charlotte bowl, but it is “expected to keep a minor sponsorship” of the game, which has been renamed the Belk Bowl (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 4/17).