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Top Endorser In Sports? It's Not Just About Tiger Woods

Friday, 22 Jun 2007 | 11:33 AM ET

Here’s the number one question I always get: Who’s the best endorser in sports? And the right answer is, there isn’t one. What people have to remember is that endorsements are a partnership and if the product doesn’t make sense with the athlete, then it doesn’t work. There’s also an economic threshold to endorsements that is never talked about. Athletes can affect purchasing decision, but only to a certain extent.

Buick scales back on Tiger Woods modeling
CNBC.com Photo Composite
Buick scales back on Tiger Woods modeling

With this, I bring you Tiger Woods. General Motors said today that he will no longer be the primary spokesman for Buick something he has done since 1999. Although Woods has a deal through 2010, they are reducing his role and sticking him OnStar.

Tiger Woods and Buick never really worked. First of all, although Tiger showed up in a Buick to every event, you never really believed he wanted to drive one. I always pictured that Tiger drove around the community in a car that had a Buick outside and a Bentley inside. You know, just like the Chameleon XLE, the car in that spoof Saturday Night Live commercial. Inside the car was a fine luxury sedan. Outside, it had three mismatched wheel covers and a broken taillight kept on with duct tape.

Second of all, no athlete can influence your purchasing decision on a $40,000 item. Athletes can help sell shoes at $150, but I’m not sure that above the $500 threshold or so--the folks at Freakonomics, can debate at what value athletes have diminishing returns--there can be any impact.

That’s why it might be smart to put Woods on OnStar, where at something like $299 a year, he actually can make a difference.

Lastly, I want to make it clear that this is not at all about Tiger. It’s about what works and what doesn’t work. LeBron James is reportedly going to sign a car deal soon and no matter what he does, he’s not going to help sell cars. I guarantee it.

Some endorsements work. But the bottom line is most don’t. Michael Jordan--is he the best endorser of all time? If he was, how come everything he did didn’t turn to gold? In fact, most of the products he endorsed didn’t. What he did with Nike was incredible. But Gatorade has the same market share it did when he signed in 1991. If he was such a great endorser, how come Rayovac couldn’t beat Duracell and Energizer? If he was such a great endorser, how come Ball Park franks has consistently been trailing Oscar Mayer? You get the idea.

Greg Oden Signs With Nike
Brian Berger of Sports Business Radioreported first that projected No. 1 draft pick in next week's draft, Greg Oden has signed with Nike. Nike sources won’t say the deal is done, but sources tell me that the Oden deal is a multi-year deal worth at least $1 million a year. A deal of that magnitude was expected considering Oden plays center, usually dubbed as the least marketable position on the floor.

Fantasy Sports Is Not Gambling
A major victory for fantasy sports occurred on Wednesday, as a New Jersey judge threw out a suit filed by Charles Humphrey Jr., a Colorado attorney and a gambling law expert who was arguing that fantasy sports constituted gambling and was therefore illegal. Humphrey was suing some of the big fantasy players including CBS Sportsline, ESPN.com and The Sporting News, as well as their parent companies. The Web sites argued that fantasy entrant fees should not be considered wagers. The judge agreed.

The judge also said fantasy gaming was allowed because all prizes and awards were determined ahead of time, it required the knowledge and skill of players and that no winning outcome was based on a single event. Thanks to Jeff Roberts of Sullivan & Worcester for the tip.

Props To Accelerade
I have to give credit to the folks at Cadbury Schweppes (owners of the protein infused sports drink) who pulled off a pretty cool stunt yesterday. They had the world’s best runner, ultramarathon man Dean Karnazes, run for 24 hours on a treadmill in the Reuters building in Times Square yesterday. Karnazes ran the equivalent of five marathons in that time span, short of the record of 153.76 miles. Accelerade had great cameras on its Web site where fans could watch Karnazes run. I think Time Magazine got it exactly right when they namedthis guy No. 27 in the Time 100.

I’m actually surprised you don’t see this guy in more commercials. Besides Accelerade, you might have seen Dean connected with North Face - he uses their laceless shoes - and on your Starbucks cup (Karnazes is one of a group of people who have their quotes on a cup). I have to admit, I’m not sure if there’s an athlete in the world I’m more fascinated with than Karnazes.

News & Notes
Coke announced on Thursday that their newly acquired Glaceau unit -- Vitaminwater -- will run their Powerade unit. The deal makes sense because the folks at Glaceau have been keying in on Gatorade for the past year and half or so. Coke bought the company for $4.1 billion earlier this month.

I missed this earlier in the week. Despite the $100 million lawsuit by NASCAR,AT&T has extended its deal with Richard Childress Racing and the car of Jeff Burton.

Chicago Cubs catcher Michael Barrett got traded on this week to the Padres. That's unfortunate for the Cubs who had some promotions planned for Barrett. This Tuesday, 100 random fans are scheduled to get a 2007 Barrett home jersey and on Sunday, the Cubs are having Michael Barrett bobblehead day - the first 10,000 fans getting the dolls. No word on whether Barrett's trade will end the promotion. It's probably too late to scale things back now.

The Atlanta Falcons have signed a four-year deal with Russell Athletic . The deal includes title sponsorship of the team’s three-week pre-season training camp at its training facility in Flowery Branch, Ga. Russell will also supply promotional apparel and premium items and will have signage in the Georgia Dome. Despite the deal, Reebok will still make all the official apparel of the Falcons as it has a deal with the league.

The NBA has hired GSI Commerce to handle its e-commerce with its online stores. GSI serves a similar function with Major League Baseball, the NFL, NHL and NASCAR

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com
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