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He won't be sold short

Peyton Manning hasn't won the big one -- yet -- but he is the NFL's champion when it comes to endorsing products

January 30, 2007|Greg Johnson | Times Staff Writer

Some fans won't credit Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts with having the right stuff until he grabs as many Super Bowl rings as archrival Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. Manning, however, has few doubters on Madison Avenue, where the second-generation NFL quarterback has joined the elite ranks of athletes who are paid handsomely to pitch goods and services.

Only a handful of professional athletes, including Tiger Woods, Andre Agassi, LeBron James and Serena Williams, earned more from product endorsements than the $11.5 million that Manning was paid last year, according to Sports Illustrated. The 30-year-old has forged more than a half dozen sponsorship deals with such powerful brands as Reebok, MasterCard, Sony and Sprint.

And, along the way, the nine-year veteran has become an ambassador for the league.

He's done it, to use a sports marketing phrase, by "taking his helmet off" and revealing more of his personality.

Manning's ads include playing the football hero-turned-everyman who begs a grocery clerk to autograph a melon in a MasterCard commercial, the big brother stuck in a sibling rivalry with brother Eli (the New York Giants' quarterback) in an ESPN commercial, and the stand-up comic who gamely dons a fake mustache and wig to hawk Sprint cellular service.

Ad executives aren't alone in their appreciation of Manning's marketing game. "I think it's hilarious," said Chicago Bears defensive end Alex Brown, who will face off against Manning and the Colts in Super Bowl XLI on Sunday. "My son loves him too."

Manning's role as product pitchman benefits from playing the right position -- quarterback -- to get his face on television. Sports marketers, though, credit Manning for using his good-guy-next-door image, showcasing his playful sense of humor and constantly honing his acting skills.

Bob Garfield, a columnist for Advertising Age, has chronicled the painful parade of athletes who've stumbled while pitching hemorrhoid preparations, low-calorie beer and the like. In December, Garfield wrote that Manning is "the greatest sports endorser ever. Not the most successful; Michael Jordan, after all. But his delivery, poise and comic timing make Michael look, comparatively, like an extra on 'CSI.' "

There's plenty of Manning to be seen on TV and online. One YouTube entry from an adoring Manning fan sums it up nicely: "I really hope none of Peyton's commercials ever get deleted. I have all nine in my favorites."

It's not as if the quarterback needs extra work.

Manning is in the middle of a seven-year, $98-million contract with the Colts. Last year, a Sports Business Journal survey of sports marketing industry executives listed Manning as the NFL's most marketable player. A Harris Poll survey reportedly listed Manning's popularity as matching that of Jordan among 30- and 40-somethings.

"When we first asked Peyton to join our team he was second only to Jordan in consumer recognition of athletes," said Kevin Berman, senior marketing manager for Sony Electronics, which uses Manning to pitch high-definition televisions. "That's a nice camp to be in."

Colts owner Jim Irsay credited Manning's commercial success to the same work ethic he displays in practice and during games.

"I'm not saying that there aren't players as good, and I'm not saying that people don't work hard," Irsay said. "But I'm just saying that if you're talking about someone who prepares, I've never seen anyone prepare like this guy."

Manning has avoided potentially embarrassing ads and stuck with well-known brands.

Sports marketers suspect that Manning might eventually add an automobile deal -- think fast-moving quarterback using a family-oriented SUV to maneuver out of a tight situation. Yet, sports and advertising industry observers doubt that Manning's first Super Bowl will produce a noticeable number of new corporate partners.

The payoff for a Super Bowl win, marketers said, could come in Manning's post-football career.

"What he's got is a real opportunity for lasting power," said Matt Delzell, a senior client manager with Dallas' Davie Brown Talent, which tracks celebrity appeal among consumers. "He's articulate, intelligent and the networks are going to clamor over him when he's done with football. So would a loss hurt? No. Would [a win] help? Yeah."

Manning wasn't always as comfortable pitching products.

In the spring of 1999, a youthful Manning was on the second team when he reported to a Los Angeles sound studio to make a 30-second spot for DirecTV. Veteran quarterbacks Bret Favre, Dan Marino and Steve Young dominated the commercials that set the players up in a kitschy setting reminiscent of "The Dating Game."

Over the years, business associates said, Manning has refined his acting skills by using the same intense preparation he is known for on the football field. Manning also seems to have benefited from his status as the highly talented son of Archie Manning, an NFL quarterback in the 1970s and 1980s.

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