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Volume 21 No. 1


Most of us love sports because at some point in our lives, an athlete performed an act of such heroic proportions that we became sports fanatics for life. That moment sticks with us forever. These personalities drive the popularity of spectator sports. They keep us watching, attending and debating. Recently, we’ve all witnessed the ascent of one of the most interesting athlete icons of our generation. Tebowmania has swept the nation, crossing over beyond the sports pages and into the mainstream. But is Tebowmania a fad, or will Tim Tebow establish himself as an icon with real staying power?

In spite of his college national championships, his Heisman and his well-known devotion to Christianity, it wasn’t long ago that he was just one of many intriguing personalities in sports. But when he took over the starting job in Denver, and led the team to the playoffs, Tebowmania “went viral.” During the Broncos’s 7-4 run, Tebow averaged 150 passing yards per game. Hardly the stuff that legends are made of.

But he captured our imaginations. Whether it was his fourth-quarter come-from-behind victories or his “Tebowing” postgame posture, everyone was talking about him. An improbable thumping of the defending AFC champion Steelers in the first round of the playoffs sent Tebowmania into the stratosphere. The victory resulted in more than 9,000 tweets per second on Twitter. Tebow finished the season as the No. 11 most admired man in the U.S., with the No. 2-selling jersey in the NFL, and the most popular athlete in America in ESPN’s annual poll.

How marketable is he?

Four key components determine athlete marketability. At BDA, we measure athlete marketability as follows: athlete marketability = (talent + success) + (integrity + charisma)

The first two components are on the field, and are listed first because traditionally they carry the most weight. The next two components express the importance of the athlete as an individual. Brands want to affiliate with talented, successful and charismatic spokespeople who their consumers can trust.

In Tebow’s case, talent continues to be the component most questioned by his detractors. Yet his marketability overcomes talent issues because he is so strong in the other critical areas. He is a winner. Above all, however, it is Tim Tebow the person that makes him so appealing to brands. Countless articles on Tebow produce the same descriptives: humble, charming, wholesome, selfless, hardworking, authentic. Brands today are risk-averse when it comes to endorsement deals. Tebow’s success, combined with his character and personality, make him an extremely marketable athlete.

In an August 2010 article, I wrote about the “Tiger Recession” and expressed my belief that in the wake of controversies surrounding Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Tiger Woods, brands would focus much more on character than ever before. Brands are insisting that their athlete spokespeople demonstrate character and integrity. Tebow’s well-known humility, generosity and selflessness are exactly what brands are looking for in 2012. Perhaps talent and success mean less to brands today than they used to.

Or maybe it isn’t just about Tebow. Perhaps Tebowmania is indicative of America in 2012. People have been kicked around by unemployment, shrinking retirement accounts and disappearing equity in their homes. Tebow has been kicked around, too. In spite of it, he stays focused, humble and faithful. In a way, he represents many Americans trying to fight on in the face of very challenging times. Perhaps we are shifting away from our obsession with wealth and glamour. If the country is indeed moving toward “regular guy” heroes, then Tebow will likely become an athlete icon with real staying power.

Tebow’s outspoken devotion to Christianity makes him polarizing, generally something brands try to avoid. Yet somehow he doesn’t come across as preachy. His faith doesn’t seem to bother Jockey, Nike or FRS, and I think more brands will jump aboard. And Tebow will absolutely need to continue winning to maintain his stratospheric marketability. Regardless of his success, I believe Tebow has established himself as a public figure who brands will have interest in associating with for many years to come.

Bill Sanders ( is chief marketing officer at BDA Sports Management and author of the blog “An Athlete Marketing Guy” at

With seemingly every professional athlete using Facebook and Twitter these days, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many are using those efforts as means to make money. While some fans may not like it, it’s become a reality that will only continue to become more prevalent as time goes on.

Endorsements have been a part of sports for decades. The phrase “you can run, but you can’t hide” is appropriate for ads these days, as just a few years ago people viewed TiVo as the genius invention that would help them escape ads. However, advertisers found their way back into people’s living rooms, this time via a couple of their most heavily consumed leisure destinations: Facebook and Twitter.

When New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski recently sent out an advertised tweet, as countless athletes do regularly, the feedback I observed indicated a consensus that the tweet was overly cheesy. Furthermore, some business minds went as far as referencing Gronkowski’s tweet to conclude that paid athlete tweets weren’t part of the future. While I don’t believe ads as forced and cheesy as this one will ultimately provide sponsors with the type of ROI they’re looking for, I do, however, believe that paid athlete social media posts of a more sophisticated nature are an enormous part of the future sports marketing landscape.

Paid tweets, like this one from Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, are often criticized for being overly commercial. Pairing a paid tweet with multimedia could remove that stigma.
Where Gronkowski’s tweet went wrong more so than the typical paid athlete tweet was that he followed it up with a not-so-subtle “Oops, what was that?” tweet just three minutes later, essentially destroying any potential credibility the brand was seeking in paying him for his tweet. While I don’t blame him, since he got paid regardless, I think Gronkowski’s case is the perfect example of why brands need to think more creatively about the perceived authenticity of the messaging they’re having athletes post while placing some parameters on their preceding and subsequent posts.

Given the growing number of companies that specialize in matching athletes (and celebrities) with brands for paid status updates/tweets on both Facebook and Twitter (i.e., IZEA, and Twtmob), paid athlete tweets as we now know them are only the tip of the iceberg. I don’t blame athletes for occasionally cashing in on these opportunities, as some of my clients have done, but I believe that immediate changes need to be made, both philosophically and tactically, by the brands paying for these endorsements.

With the exponential growth of Facebook and Twitter, people are consuming more of their entertainment and news there via their computers and cellphones, meaning if you’re a brand that wants eyeballs on your partnership with an athlete, you better figure out how to do so via social media. As I look toward the future, several things must change in order for paid status updates/tweets to prove beneficial to both the sponsors and the
Memorable endorsements carry vivid images, like Brian Orakpo and the Geico caveman and the McCourty twins with Palmer’s. Social media ads should take note.
athlete endorsers, and it begins and ends with multimedia.

Think for a moment about the last athlete endorsement you saw. Was it a K-Swiss TV commercial with Patrick Willis or a Geico commercial with Brian Orakpo? How about a Palmer’s Cocoa Butter ad in ESPN The Magazine with twins Devin and Jason McCourty? Odds are, whatever it was featured the face and/or voice of the athlete endorser, as I believe that creating a memorable visual experience is the staple of successful sports marketing.

While most things in life are constantly evolving, including social media, other things remain the same. One of those things that I believe remains the same, and always will, is that human nature causes us to respond in a more profound, impactful way when presented with face-to-face interaction, including video and picture consumption.

Though I recognize they exist, it’s very rare to see an athlete endorsement that simply displays a quote in text form without an accompanying picture or video. This being the case, why have paid status updates/tweets been almost exclusively text-based to this point? I believe it’s because social media is still in its infancy, with no one truly knowing what all of the metrics mean, and thus not having a definitive way to determine their ROI. Companies that have delved into this paid status updates/tweets business are still testing the water and thus are taking it slow. While I can understand that, it’s time to recognize that the influence of many athletes’ social networks makes them worthy of social endorsements and that the delivery of these endorsements needs to become more social in nature.

The best way to execute this, both from the athlete’s and endorser’s perspective, is to present a more authentic, genuine advertisement to consumers via aforementioned multimedia, such as videos and pictures. In regard to the aforementioned Gronkowski tweet, the brand requiring him to include a simple picture of a cellphone would have been a vast improvement, in addition to changing the verbiage, instead of making him look like a used car salesman. If multimedia and better copy are adopted, fans will take these endorsements more seriously instead of responding with complaints about being spammed, which is a lose-lose for both the athlete and the brand. By showing fans instead of telling them, the result will be athletes receiving more meaningful feedback on the campaign, which of course will result in a stronger ROI for brands, even if they can’t tangibly measure it … yet.

Jeff Weiner ( is CEO of ESBL Social Media Coaching and coaches athletes, personalities and organizations on social media strategies.

Peter Fitzpatrick of Home Team Marketing, a company whose focus is on high school sports, published a provocative letter in SportsBusiness Journal on Jan. 23. His letter generally commended SBJ for its selection of the 50 most influential people in sports business, but took exception to the absence of anyone connected to the world of high school sports. As a man with four decades of experience in the field, I believe that Mr. Fitzpatrick has raised an interesting point.

When one considers the collective reach of high school sports, no one can match our numbers. Nor can anyone match the importance of the outcomes we engender. Our country’s leaders in government, industry, medicine and education have had their characters formed, to an extraordinary degree, by their high school sports experiences. For example, President Obama often cites his basketball efforts at Punahou High School in Hawaii, and House Speaker John Boehner makes equal note of his football days at Cincinnati’s Moeller High School.

The macro numbers are striking. Over 19,000 high schools provide nearly 8 million young people opportunities to play high school sports. More people attend high school sporting events than college and professional sports events combined. The growth of Web streaming will widen the gap. Yet the business media, including SBJ, largely pass on high schools. At a time when budget cuts threaten the existence of many school sports programs, business leaders should recognize the key role of high school sports in developing the next generation of employees and entrepreneurs, not to mention the current generation of consumers.

Studies consistently show students who participate in high school sports make better grades, have better attendance and fewer discipline referrals, and graduate at a higher rate than students who do not participate. Supporting the young people who participate in high school sports will keep the doors open to these programs and help us build the leaders of tomorrow.

None of the people who lead high school sports programs would claim to rank in the top 50 most influential people in sports business. However, the collective role of such leaders has an enormous influence on the nation’s future.

Robert B. Gardner

Gardner is executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Are you hungry for some football?

All eyes are on the biggest game in sports, the Super Bowl. But while many of us are making choices related to parties and gatherings on game day, whether we are in Indianapolis or with friends back home, there are millions of Americans who struggle with a choice of how they will put food on the table for their family’s next meal.

For more than 20 years, Taste of the NFL has worked to raise funds and awareness for hunger relief through its strolling food and wine event held on the eve of the big game. Once again, “The Party with a Purpose” will be the premier event of Super Bowl weekend, but this year is a historic year. For the first time, the event will be held inside of one of the food banks served: Gleaners Food Bank in Indianapolis.

There is not a better place on the planet to eat this Saturday than to be with 35 of the finest chefs in the country in one spot, sampling their signature dishes from each NFL team city.

Current players, key alumni and hall of famers from every team in the NFL will be there, eager to talk with guests, pose for pictures, give an autograph, and even embellish a story of a great sports moment for them in NFL history. They have each volunteered to be at Taste of the NFL in order to support the cause. Those players will be joined by other sports and entertainment celebrities, including Tony Dungy, this year’s honorary chair of Taste of the NFL, in the town to which he brought a Super Bowl championship.

Why has Taste of the NFL become not only a

Chef Kent Rathbun of Abacus in Dallas and former Cowboy Chad Hennings (top) dish it out, while former Packer Donny Anderson signs a football for a fan at the 2011 event.
sought-after event, but also a successful fundraising endeavor at the Super Bowl over the years? What makes Taste of the NFL so different, and the hot ticket, is simple. The TNFL team comes together each year with the renewed dedication and passion that we all need to step up and raise awareness and dollars for hunger relief in America … now.

The spirit of the TNFL team recognizes that each of us can play a role in changing the lives of thousands of families and our neighbors who are struggling to put a meal on the table each day for those that they love: their kids, their aging parents, their friends, and for many others who they won’t ever actually meet face to face. The face of hunger has changed dramatically in the last few years, given the challenges of the economy. It’s no longer faces we don’t know; many are now those we know and love who have lost a job, had an illness in the family, lost their health insurance, or any number of other incidents in their life that now leads them to have to make a choice to visit a food bank for the first time just to get the next meal.

Taste of the NFL started in 1992 at Super Bowl XXVI in Minnesota. It was a fresh idea with aspirations to make a dent in the fight to end hunger in this country. It was a $75 ticket then, and from that first sold-out event we raised more than $90,000 to be distributed to food banks in each NFL city. In 2011, Taste of the NFL celebrated its 20th anniversary in North Texas and raised more than $1 million during Super Bowl weekend. That brings the total dollars distributed in excess of $11 million. Those dollars are shared each year with the 32 food banks located in each of the NFL cities. Translated into the cause-and-effect ratio for a food bank, that is more than 55 million meals. We hope to continue that success this year in Indianapolis — with your help.

It’s ironic and shocking that the need for hunger relief efforts would be so much greater for so many more families now after 20 years. But since that need is so critical, the dedication from the chefs, players, culinary students and volunteers continues and grows. We all want to run the score up on the dollars raised in order to help more families.

So, you aren’t going to Indianapolis? If your team isn’t in the Super Bowl (mine isn’t either), you can still join the Taste of the NFL team right now. Go to the Kick Hunger Challenge page at There you can click on “Support a Team,” and make any sized donation in the name of your favorite NFL team. One hundred percent of your donation will end up at the food bank represented by your team. And no donation is too small; even a $25 donation can allow a food bank to provide up to 125 meals for families in that area. Everyone wins: You donate in the name of your favorite team, your team competes to finish first, the food banks are able to use these new dollars to help even more families — and you feel great!

In all your choices on how to enjoy Super Bowl weekend, I hope that you will choose to help those less fortunate than you so that they may take one more step toward getting back on their feet. You know that if the situation were reversed, you would certainly appreciate every extra hand you could for you and your family.

We can do this … together.

Wayne Kostroski ( is founder of the Taste of the NFL. The 2010 James Beard Humanitarian of the Year is also a well-known restaurateur in Minneapolis.