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Volume 22 No. 19
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Unified champ

Promoter Top Rank fights back against internal disorganization surrounding Manny Pacquiao that has kept prospective sponsors away

When Sandy Sandoval was contemplating who to recommend for the cover of EA Sports’ new “Fight Night Champion” boxing release, the first choice was an obvious one. The brightest star in boxing, Manny Pacquiao, is under contract to appear exclusively in games produced by EA.

Sandoval opted instead to go with Andre Bishop, a fictional character created for the game.

press conference
In an effort to eliminate confusion, boxer Manny Pacquiao has authorized Top Rank to handle his sponsorship and endorsement deals.
“I love Manny,” said Sandoval, senior director of athlete relations for EA Sports. “He’s been good to me personally and good for the company. He would have been the ideal guy for the cover of our ‘Fight Night’ game. But because of all the layers of people out there representing him or claiming to represent him, I didn’t want to do it.

“The left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing. I’m not subjecting my company to that.”

It has been a consistent complaint of those who venture into the world of Team Pacquiao, a loosely aligned, often disorganized collection of associates and friends of the world’s most popular fighter, many of whom claim to represent him but few of whom deliver. An iconic superstar of sport, television, music, film and now politics in the Philippines, Pacquiao remains largely untapped commercially in North America, in part because he is from the other side of the globe but also because he has not made it a priority.

That could be changing.

On Feb. 25, his promoter, Top Rank, sent a letter to sponsors and sponsor prospects that began: “We’ve heard frustrations from many companies about their inability to explore personal endorsement and/or corporate branding opportunities with Manny Pacquiao.” Signed by CEO Bob Arum and President Todd DuBoef, it went on to explain that in an effort to eliminate confusion, Pacquiao had authorized Top Rank to handle his sponsorship and endorsement deals. It also introduced a new hire, Lucia McKelvey, a former vice president of golf development and sales at IMG, who will serve as the point person on all commercial opportunities for Pacquiao.

As soon as the letter went out, McKelvey began hearing back from both prospects and existing sponsors. Among the e-mails she said she received:

• “Lucia — others have been approaching us as well. who controls manny’s deals, you or everyone else?”

• “Lucia, you are the 5th person from 5 different organizations regarding Manny, who’s the real go to person?”

• “It was great speaking to you and frankly very refreshing to hear that there will be one central contact point for all things Manny. It’s been a very frustrating process getting anything done with Manny, and I’m local to him.”

Though McKelvey would not say who the first two came from because they were from sponsor prospects, the third came from Tony Atayde, a Nike sales manager based in the Philippines. Nike last year used Pacquiao in its “Boom” campaign and launched a small clothing and apparel line under his name. Last week, Atayde e-mailed McKelvey to say that the company hoped to explore greater retail activation using Pacquiao. That’s the sort of deal Top Rank and Pacquiao’s Canadian-based adviser, Michael Koncz, say they will value highly: an opportunity to both deepen Pacquiao’s affiliation with a global brand and generate more exposure for his fights.

Pacquiao, who defeated Antonio Margarito in November, is to face Shane Mosley on May 7.
“As fragmented as boxing has been, Manny’s endorsements have been more fragmented,” DuBoef said. “The synergies that could exist between Manny, the event side and the product were not put together. We’re trying to be the ones to put them together.”

Presented with examples of lost opportunities, Pacquiao and his management consented to change their ways.

“I think we’ve been losing millions and millions in endorsements for Manny,” Koncz said last week from the Philippines. “It’s just confusing to corporate America. … We know there’s a short span remaining in his boxing career. Now we need to look at how to sustain the lifestyle he has now without boxing. That’s a tall mountain to climb. The only way to do that is through endorsements.”

Top Rank saw the opportunity not only to expand Pacquiao’s portfolio but add to the assets it could offer companies that sponsor its fights. It will pitch existing sponsors on using its fighters in their campaigns and attempt to use Pacquiao’s mainstream popularity to sell brands on boxing.

“We want this as a steppingstone for long-term relationships into the sport,” McKelvey said. “I get calls on one-offs all day. But that’s not really of interest to us. Do you want to build a partnership and build a campaign? Then we’ll talk.”

The decision to retool came last month. On Valentine’s Day, McKelvey joined DuBoef and Arum on Pacquiao’s press tour promoting his May 7 fight against Shane Mosley to discuss the change in procedure with the fighter and his wife, Jinkee. Once Pacquiao approved the move, McKelvey began sorting through contracts already in place. Other than a three-year global deal with an electronics chain that only operates in Asia — “three years, very low dollars, unfortunately,” McKelvey said — she found little that will restrict them as they search for larger deals. Most of his contracts were for appearances and small, one-fight sponsorships — a deal portfolio that she likened to that of a lower-tier LPGA player.

That is in stark contrast to his portfolio in the Philippines, where he has appeared in multiple major campaigns for top-selling beer San Miguel, wireless provider SMART and McDonald’s.

Koncz conceded that much of the problem in North America stems from Pacquiao’s proclivity for signing over authorization letters as a favor to friends who have then committed him to deals on which he didn’t follow through.

“In all honesty, we don’t have the greatest reputation for fulfilling our commitments,” Koncz said. “I’m trying to straighten that out by being more selective and not jumping at everything. [Pacquiao’s friends] sign the contract and get the money, but it takes them forever to fulfill. We don’t need that kind of reputation.”

film strip
Pacquiao's portfolio in his native Phillipines is more robust, including his appearance in campaigns for top-selling beer San Miguel.
Interestingly, the only North American campaign that currently features Pacquiao is an example of that slow turnaround. Since late last year, a spot featuring Pacquiao hawking San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino has run in heavy rotation during televised sporting events in Southern California. Though San Manuel has landed high-profile athletes in the past, including Magic Johnson and Sugar Ray Leonard, Koncz and DuBoef said Pacquiao likely would not have signed on for the spot now, focusing instead on North American and international deals with larger brands. Pacquiao did that deal in 2008, before defeating Oscar De La Hoya in his mainstream breakthrough. But it wasn’t until last year that he delivered for San Manuel.

DuBoef said Top Rank will maintain its relationship with agency of record Leverage, which began selling sponsorships and media for the promoter last year. VisionQwest Resource Group, a Glendale, Calif.-based management consulting firm that handles Pacquiao’s taxes, said it no longer will pursue endorsements on his behalf. The firm said it began shopping for deals in January at Pacquiao’s request.

Ranking Manny
Manny Pacquiao lags well behind other current boxers in recognizability, according to the Davie-Brown Index, which measures a celebrity’s attributes, but his endorsement score ranks highest among current boxers.
Boxer (overall DBI rank)
1. Muhammad Ali (4)
2. George Foreman (78)
3. Mike Tyson (365)
4. Oscar De La Hoya (548)
5. Laila Ali (772)
 6. Floyd Mayweather (1,172) 53.0%
7. Manny Pacquiao (1,678)
Note: 31 percent of the 1,000 panelists in DBI’s survey recognized Pacquiao either by face or by name, comparable to PGA Tour’s Davis Love III and retired MLB player Randy Johnson. His endorsement score of 58.2, which represents if respondents think he would be an effective endorser, is the highest among current boxers, but roughly equal to the WNBA’s Tamika Catchings, the PGA Tour’s Y.E. Yang and Emeka Okafor of the NBA.
Source: Davie-Brown Index

“We have been pushing for Manny to have a group that would focus on quality endorsement deals,” VisionQwest CEO Michael Lodge said in an e-mail. “Top Rank stepped forward and put that group together and they will do very well at it. With better endorsement representation it allows our firm the ability to focus on his financial and tax planning.”

Top Rank will not be the first promoter to coordinate deals for its fighters. Golden Boy Promotions offers the service, though its chief marketing officer, Bruce Binkow, said it typically works as a scout for fighters and turns the leads over to their managers to negotiate. Golden Boy does not take a commission, he said. Top Rank intends to because it will pursue and broker the deals. EA Sports’ Sandoval said he can get to any fighter under Golden Boy’s umbrella through Binkow and hopes for a similar setup with Pacquiao and Top Rank.

“Speaking to Lucia, this is all music to my ears,” said Sandoval, who landed EA’s initial deal with Pacquiao only after cooling his heels at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood while Pacquiao trained, playing pingpong with him and then having dinner with his family. “Manny has been an absolute delight to work with. But as has been pretty well documented, trying to get to him can drive you nuts.

“There should be a lot more deals coming his way. Bigger deals that make sense.”