By Barry Janoff
Executive Editor, NYSportsJournalism.com
May 7, 2009: The news that Manny Ramirez of the Los Angeles Dodgers has been suspended for 50 games for violating MLB's performance-enhancing drug testing program, coupled with the recent news linking Alex Rodriguez to banned substances, and added to the ongoing news associating Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and others to such substances, has marketers rethinking endorsement deals using baseball players.
"A lot of companies have stayed away from [Ramirez] already because of his personality. This will make him a far reach for anyone looking for a baseball player for an endorsement," said Robert Tuchman, president and founder of TSE Sports and Entertainment, New York, and author of the new book, 100 Sporting Events You Must See Live. "Unfortunately MLB hasn’t hit bottom yet with all these new revelations. They need to clear this stuff up and move on past this era to come out of this. They will soon enough. They have a lot of young stars in the pipeline."
Ramirez, does not have far to fall in the world of marketing as he earns only about $4-5 million in endorsements. Ramirez has a deal with RecoveryX, an energy drink from Changing Times Vitamins, Scottsdale, AZ; and FatHead has a Ramirez product. But beyond a 2008 campaign in which he was among a group of ball players to do a Father's Day effort for Macy's, his presence among national marketers has been limited.
The Dodgers have to dismantle at least until Ramirez's scheduled return on July 3 their "Mannywood" section at Dodger Stadium, unveiled during the team's current record-setting home stand. Already taken down soon after his suspension was a section on the Dodgers' Web site for selling seats in Mannywood, located in Sections 51 an d 53, closest to where Ramirez plays left field, for which fans had been able to purchase two seats for $99 and receive a limited-edition "Mannywood" T-shirt. On May 5, the Dodgers, in celebration of Cinco de Mayo, even issued a limited edition "Yo estuve en Mannywood" ("I was in Mannywood") T-shirt to fans who purchased tickets in Mannywood. Harder to remove will be numerous billboards throughout Los Angles also supporting Mannywood. And M. Ramirez remains an option on the team's Web site among Dodgers being touted for nomination to the 2009 All-Star Game.
Ramirez was banned for what he called a medication that was prescribed to him by a doctor for a "personal health issue" and not steroids. But the image of a top-level, and very high profile player, being suspended by MLB for 50 games only adds to the public perception of baseball. According to recent column by Kurt Streeter of The Los Angeles Times (which broke the Ramirez suspension story), "L.A. loves Kobe [Bryant] because of his skill, swagger and cold-blooded-killer 'tude. But Ramirez - softer, goofier, wearing the befuddled look of a man who has just lost his keys while still an assassin with a bat - is already right up there with Kobe." Bryant was able to come back from sexual assault allegations in 2003 (a case that was settled out of court), which saw his endorsement earnings drop from $65 million to under $20 million, but which have since returned to about the $35 million level. Likewise, swimmer Michael Phelps took a serious endorsement hit after the release of a photo showing him holding a bong.
Ramierez, working with his agent, Scott Boras (who also handles A-Rod), was quick to admit responsibility, to apologize to the Los Angeles Dodgers and fans and to also distance himself from the "steroid" cloud hanging over some of the game's top players. "Unfortunately, the medication was banned under our drug policy,” Ramirez said in a statement. “Under the policy that mistake is now my responsibility. I have been advised not to say anything more for now. I do want to say one other thing: I’ve taken and passed about 15 drug tests over the past five seasons.”
If history holds true, Ramirez' popularity among fans and consumers - aka those people who voices directly influence how marketers act and react - will fall. After being association with illegal substances, both Rodriguez and Phelps saw significant drops in trust, appeal, endorsement, and aspiration awareness numbers in the Davie Brown Index, which tracks the ability of athletes and celebrities "to influence brand affinity and consumer purchase intent." Back to Home Page