Sports Biz with Darren Rovell


Nastia Liukin

I read with interest the Chicago Tribune’s story about the marketing of their kick returner Devin Hester, who tied the NFL record last Sunday for most touchdown returns in a season (6).

“Shoes, clothing, soft drinks - you can pretty much name all the main product categories - they’re there,” his agent Eugene Parker told the paper.

“I’m just trying to focus on finishing out the season,” Hester said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to win the Super Bowl and in the off-season I’ll look forward to that.”

Here’s my advice to Hester and Parker: Do as much as you can. Take the money and run.

Hester has a lot of things going for him. He’s on a winning team. He’s young and he’s on a team where the most marketable position -- the quarterback -- isn’t exactly doing anything that will help him in the marketing world.

But he’s also a kick returner. And if Parker were smart, he’d give his client a case study with the name “Dante Hall” on it.

Let us review.

Nastia Liukin

During the 2003 season, Kansas City Chiefs' kick returner Hall was the man. He set an NFL record by returning kicks for touchdowns in four straight games. The five-foot-six Hall was smart. Knowing he wasn’t a go-to receiver - in his career he has nine receiving touchdowns and 11 kick/punt returns for TDs -- he maximized his exposure.

He appeared on David Letterman.

He did everything he could.  He signed an autograph deal with Tri-Star for public and private appearances. He shot an ad for the NFL where he raced actor Don Cheadle. Gatorade even did a one-off deal with him to be featured in the first spot touting their new drink “X-Factor.”

But Hall didn’t last because he became a target and his Chiefs didn’t continue their winning ways. His 81 receptions, 849 yards and 5 touchdowns as a wide receiver since 2004 isn’t impressive enough to keep his name top of mind, especially with only four returns for touchdowns in almost three seasons. Yes, that’s right, Hall’s signature is on the discount rack and he would never be considered for another Gatorade advertisement.

Let’s now compare the 2003 Hall to the 2006 Hester and see who was a better marketing buy at the time.

Hall also had a winning team. His Chiefs were 13-3 in 2003, which could very well be the record the Bears finish up at this year. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Hall, who played at Texas A&M, only entered the public spotlight as an NFL player. Hester had the benefit of having his kick returns as a player for the University of Miami played over and over again on SportsCenter. ADVANTAGE: HESTER

Hall played besides kick returning. Hester is a cornerback but he almost never plays in the field (he has five tackles in 13 games). Not unless Hester gets out on the field -- either offense or defense -- signing him to a deal for his special teams prowess is not good enough. ADVANTAGE: HALL

Kansas City Chiefs fans are rabid. It can’t compare to when the Bears are winning. ADVANTAGE: HESTER

That’s all I can think of. So I give Hester the advantage over Hall, but I still don’t think he should wait until the end of the season to sign a marketing deal.

One more Bears-related note: Memorabilia firm Steiner has signed Bears QB Rex Grossman to an autograph deal, but sources are telling us that you shouldn’t expect inscriptions if the team wins the Super Bowl. His deal apparently runs out right before the Super Bowl. Steiner’s executive vice president Matt Lalin said that company policy prohibits him from disclosing details of the contract.

Questions?  Comments?