With three newly inked endorsement deals, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is scoring faster and more often with corporate America than any other National Football League player, according to his handlers at Cleveland-based IMG Worldwide.
But Manning's endorsement success hasn't played out as fast as one of his famous twominute drills. Since entering the league sevenplus years ago, Manning and IMG have followed a carefully diagrammed blueprint to build first a local platform through deals with St. Vincent Health and Marsh Supermarkets before signing national deals with Reebok, Gatorade and Master Card.
Though IMG officials refuse to divulge Manning's annual endorsement take, they said it was well into the eight-figure range. Sports marketers said his latest deals with locally based Bill Estes auto dealerships, Sony and Kraft push Manning's annual endorsement score to $13 million, almost double the next-highest-paid NFL pitchman, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. Last year, Manning's endorsement take was estimated at $9.5 million.
Sports marketers estimate the Sony and Kraft deals in the sevenfigure range and the Bill Estes deal in the mid-six-figure range.
"The sports endorsement world has recently been dominated by basketball first, and baseball second," said Paul Swangard, managing director of the University of Oregon Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. "It's long been thought that someone would emerge out of football who has been missing. Peyton Manning is that person."
Manning's six major national deals are almost unheard of today, said Alan Zucker, IMG senior vice president of athlete marketing. Sports marketers agree it's unusual for someone who hasn't donned a Super Bowl ring.
Making Manning's ascension up the endorsement ranks even more remarkable is that he's done it while performing in small-market Indianapolis.
"Not only does he play for the Colts, he makes his home in Indianapolis full time," Zucker said. "He really wants to be part of the community."
The NFL's national marketing plan and TV deal have helped brighten Manning's star, said William Chipps, editor of Chicago-based IEG Sponsorship Report, as has IMG's industry contacts.
"IMG is a well-oiled machine with a Rolodex that is unparalleled," Chipps said.
IMG represents other category leaders, such as golfer Tiger Woods, who brings in a whopping $80 million a year in endorsements, in addition to Major League Baseball's top pitchman Derek Jeter, tennis star Maria Sharapova and NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon. IMG officials are usually not shy about touting their success.
But IMG brass, who have represented Manning since 1998, take little responsibility for his rising celebrity.
"It's not us," Zucker said after finalizing the deal with Bill Estes Chevrolet and Ford dealerships. "He understands the way businesses work and what marketing managers need. I'm very impressed with the way Peyton works. This guy is amazing."
Manning was not available for comment.
Zucker said Manning's approach has made him appealing to a wide range of companies seeking broad demographic appeal.
"His community involvement and character are critical to us," said Bill Estes, who founded the local auto dealership 30 years ago. "The only other athletic figure we've partnered with is [former Indiana Pacers coach] Larry Brown. So we don't take these relationships lightly."
Estes said Manning's willingness to take part in employee incentive programs were as important to the deal as his commercial appearances.
"We know a sales award involving having dinner with Peyton Manning or an autographed football will help increase sales," Estes said.
Manning's most recent deals won't translate into heavy-duty commercial campaigns until early 2006. Sony will use Manning as primary endorser of its highdefinition televisions. Bill Estes will use Manning in a broad TV, radio and print campaign. Kraft intends to use Manning in conjunction with his father, former New Orleans Saints quarterback Archie Manning, and his brother, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, to market Ritz Bits crackers.
"Peyton can be a huge endorsement success on his own, but his family name and his relationship with his dad and brother, I think, make him even more marketable," said Nova Lanktree, executive vice president of marketing services for CSMG International, a Chicago firm that matches athletes to commercial opportunities.
One of Manning's strongest endorsement assets is his credibility, Lanktree said.
"He's incredibly believable in the messages he delivers," Lanktree said. "You can have all the athletic prowess and even star power, and if you're not seen as sincere and genuine, your value as an endorser fades greatly."
With Manning, Zucker insisted, the sincerity is no act.
"We've had to be very careful to align him with companies that match his values," Zucker said.
Zucker pointed out that every one of Manning's sponsors contributes to his PeyBack Foundation, which works to benefit underprivileged youth.
"That's not written in the contract," Zucker said. "In fact, it's somewhat unusual to have that kind of participation. For Peyton, it's all about supporting those who support you, and he aligns himself with those kinds of partners."
When Peyton and Eli recently delivered aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina in their hometown of New Orleans, Peyton's corporate partners lined up to help, Zucker said.
AirTran Airways provided planes to fly in goods, Marsh Supermarkets supplied food, St. Vincent provided diapers, baby formula and pillows. Peyton and Eli had aid to the area within 48 hours of the hurricane's hitting.
"Everything he does off the field as well as on really allows him to transcend football," said David Carter, principal of Sports Marketing Group, a Los Angelesbased sports business consultancy. "He's recognizable even without his Colts uniform. Just look at the Master Card commercials."
In the award-winning ads, Manning is shown in street clothes cheering for people in occupations, including accountants and meat cutters. Swangard said the Master Card commercials also allow Manning to showcase another endorsement attribute.
"I think he has a really good sense of humor," Swangard said. "And that's something you really can't teach."
Zucker said despite Manning's commercial success, he has no plans to abandon his local endorsements.
"Peyton doesn't need to do those deals, but he wants to help out the local marketplace any way he can," Zucker said. "Community is very important to him and Indianapolis and Indiana is his home."
Manning's willingness to continue local deals is a big win for the Colts.
"The Colts, even though they are a part of the NFL's national marketing machine, are still a local team," IEG's Chipps said. "Manning's exposure in the local market really helps boost the Colts brand equity and that helps sell tickets, merchandise, team sponsorships and drive a lot of other revenue streams. I doubt that has escaped Peyton Manning's attention. I think it speaks to his sense of loyalty."