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Sports Business

Luck good bet as corporate pitchman, but no sure thing

September 18, 2013
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Hiring an athlete as a corporate spokesman is a lot like investing in the stock market. When you put your money down, there’s little guarantee what the return is going to be.

Sure there is some science to it and some things are fairly predictable. But signing an endorsement deal with an athlete is what most would call an educated guess in terms of return on investment. It’s certainly speculative.

While the companies pairing with Indianapolis Colts’ Andrew Luck appear to have hit certain pay dirt, the second-year quarterback is anything but a sure thing—at least not yet.

First, he hasn’t won any Super Bowls. And as good as he’s been in 18 starts, there’s no guarantee he ever will. But more importantly to corporate interests is that Luck is not yet a household name. Not even close. We might lose sight of that in central Indiana where local residents can’t open a newspaper or turn on a television or surf the Internet without seeing Luck’s No. 12.

While almost every football fan knows Luck—and football is as popular as any American sport right now—that’s not enough for many companies. Corporate interests are often looking for larger-than-life figures that transcend the sport they play.

According to The Davie-Brown Index, an independent research database compiled by The Marketing Arm and used by companies and marketers globally, Luck ranks far behind the NFL’s biggest stars in almost every category measured.

Only 36 percent of U.S. consumers know who Luck is, compared with 45 percent who are aware of Robert Griffin III, according to The Davie-Brown Index. Peyton Manning is known by 83 percent of U.S. consumers. That’s the kind of recognition companies are seeking.

Of more than 3,000 celebrities—including everyone from TV and movie stars, singers and athletes—Griffin rated No. 18 in terms of how much the American public aspires to be like him. Luck ranked No. 126 in that category. That’s largely a function of exposure.

It’s an interesting chicken and egg scenario for many sports marketers. While Manning is certainly well known for his football feats, it’s his exposure through mainstream television, online and print advertising that has truly elevated his status among the masses.

Far less than 83 percent of U.S. consumers are NFL football fans. Yet, all those people know Manning. As difficult as it is for Colts fans to believe, as many U.S. consumers know Manning for his commercials for electronics, credit cards and automobiles than they do for his ability to read defenses and throw tight spirals (though maybe not quite as tight as they once were).

Despite the risks, companies looking to boost the image of their products—most recently Indianapolis-based Klipsch and California-based Body Armor—are willing to roll the dice on what Luck could become. His clean image, his Stanford degree and his articulate yet aw-shucks demeanor make him a good bet.

Still, it’s a wager, and it’s a much bigger gamble for companies, like Klipsch, who are not as directly involved in the sports world as some of Luck’s other corporate partners such as Nike and Body Armor, which is using Luck to hype its sports drink.

The sponsor-athlete relationship is more co-dependent than most people realize. Companies like Klipsch hope Luck can help them raise their profile and sell their products, but at the same time, it’s the heavy marketing of those products that often make the right athletes bigger than the sports they play. That gives them more leverage for the next sponsorship deal.

As for Luck, he still has a long way to go. Suffice it to say, his product pitching paydays are nowhere near what Manning’s are. Below are a few more interesting yard markers for how Luck ranks against 3,000 of the nation’s biggest celebrities, according to The Davie-Brown Index.

Category / Luck’s rank / Celebs with similar rank

Aspiration (degree to which consumers aspire to be like him) / 126 / Ron Howard, Mike Krzyzewski, John Elway, Hope Solo

Breakthrough (degree to which celebrity is noticed in the media) / 300 / Ben Stiller, Cal Ripken Jr., Dan Patrick, Colin Kaepernick

Influence / 342 / Magic Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Adam Sandler, Robert Downey Jr.

Endorsement / 399 / Reggie Miller, Venus Williams, Sandra Bullock

Trendsetter / 533 / Gwyneth Paltrow, Shaquille O’Neal, Andy Murray

Appeal / 983 / Kevin Costner, Woody Harrelson, Bob Costas

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