Endorsements: Follow The Athlete Or The Trainer?

Ladainian Tomlinson
Ladainian Tomlinson

So let's say you're a 14-year-old kid. And you want to be the next LaDainian Tomlinson. So you start to look into how he trains. You notice that LaDainian is part of Nike's new SPARQ training campaign. Then you're doing some research online and you find out that Todd Durkin, Tomlinson's trainer, has a web site and his web site is sponsored by Under Armour .

In a "60 Minutes" piece, posted on Durkin's site, Durkin is working Tomlinson out in Under Armour. Do you go out and buy Nike SPARQ shoes because the athlete doing the workouts is sponsoring them--or do you buy the new Under Armour cross trainers because the trainer devising the workouts for that high profile athlete is sponsored by Under Armour? Confused? I was.

The $1 billion cross training market fight now includes clinics. Trainers are big beneficiaries of this as they've gotten consultancy contracts with these companies. Durkin, who has worked with Tomlinson for five years, is an independent contractor and therefore had a right to shop his services around to anyone he wanted to.

"I don't look at it like LaDainian is a Nike guy and I'm an Under Armour guy," said Durkin, who has been with Under Armour for the past year. "I went with Under Armour because they understood my vision and where I wanted to go with this."

Durkin said Under Armour has him mixing both physical performance training techniques with motivational speaking.

"Their story fit my story," said Durkin, who also trains Reggie Bush, the Saints running back who would be integral to an adidas training campaign. "Just like they started as a one-man show, that's how I started and we've both grown against all odds."

Durkin said Tomlinson knows about Durkin's affiliation and understands he needs to make business decisions. Tomlinson's marketing agent Alan Zucker would not comment on whether he thought the alliance led to any marketing confusion.

The idea behind the Nike SPARQ alliance is a little more do-it-yourself, so the news that Durkin is Under Armour might not hurt as hard as one might think. But those who attend Under Armour clinics that are run by Durkin could be faced with a tougher decision as to which company they want to pledge their allegiance to.

UA can't tout Durkin as Tomlinson's trainer at this clinics, but Under Armour's vice president of marketing Steve Battista says the company doesn't have to.

"Everyone knows this guy trains L.T.," Battista said. "We've seen it first hand. When we bring him to speak to kids, we don't announce who he trains, they all know it and that's the best way to do it."

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