By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
Originally published at MediaPost.com
"Bad boys, bad boys whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do/When they come for you?"
July 21, 2009: Being a bad boy in sports marketing has been redefined. Just ask Manny Ramirez, Michael Phelps, Charles Barkley and Kobe Bryant.
In May, Ramirez was suspended for 50 games for violating Major League Baseball's performance-enhancement drug policy. He didn't lose many marketing deals, earning only about $3-4 million a year from RecoveryX, an energy drink from Changing Times Vitamins, and FatHead wall hanging products. But he did receive more than 1.5 million votes for the All-Star Game (he was not, however, on the final roster).
And on July 16, Manny's first post-suspension home game, the Los Angeles Dodgers reinstated "Mannywood," a section in the left field stands at Dodger Stadium, which includes a special ticket plan, merchandise and a supporting "Mannywood" marketing campaign. Bringing "Mannywood" back was "directly based on our fans' interest," according to Dodgers president Dennis Mannion. (Note: The team also kept in place a Manny Bobblehead Night for July 22, which was put on the schedule prior to his suspension, mainly due to the fact that all 56,000 seats at Dodger Stadium were sold for the event.)
Late last year, a photo showing Phelps with marijuana paraphernalia tarnished the golden image he earned for winning a record eight gold medals at the 2008 Olympics. Kellogg opted not to renew its alliance with the swimmer, Subway pulled back a campaign that was scheduled to break, and USA Swimming, the sport's governing body, slapped him in February with a three-month suspension.
But, with the backing of agent Peter Carlisle of Octagon, Phelps is again swimming in the marketing pool. Over the past few weeks, he signed a new deal with waterproof headphone company H2O Audio, and Subway unveiled the campaign it had temporarily pulled. Phelps still has deals with companies, including Visa, Speedo and AT&T, that earn him $8-10 million in annual endorsements.
"Given fans' idolatry, they welcome a fallen athlete back into the fold, and the brands are not far behind," says John Meindl, president and CEO for SportsBrandedMedia, New York, a sports marketing, branding and production company. "It's as if there is a formula for an athlete's endorsement recovery based on the individual's status, character, ability and the nature of the crime."
O.J. Simpson and Mike Tyson are the extreme cases of marketing pariahs due to the severities of their actions. But Bryant is an example of how a popular athlete associated with a horrendous incident can survive on Madison Avenue. In 2003, Bryant, who had won three NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, was topping $55 million in annual endorsements. But when he was charged in Colorado with sexual assault, a majority of his sponsorship deals were terminated (the notable exception being Nike, which did not use his image for more than a year).
The case was settled out of court in 2004, but it took years for Bryant to reclaim his marketing status. In 2009, Bryant's endorsements come in at about $15 million, including recent campaigns for Nike and Coca-Cola's Vitaminwater during the Lakers' NBA championship run. He also will be on the cover of and star in a supporting campaign for 2K Sports' videogame, NBA 2K10, being released this fall.
So what does it take to be labeled a marketing bad boy? "For some brands, the bad boy image is part of their DNA —- as long as the athlete's crime does not go beyond felonious assault," says Meindl.
Two cases in point: John McEnroe, whose on-court tantrums and profanity were as classic as his tennis play, and Charles Barkley. McEnroe, now 50, has parlayed his trademark "You cannot be serious!" rant in recent years into endorsement deals with National Car Rental and American Express. This past New Year's Eve, Barkley was arrested for suspicion of DUI. He took a "hiatus" from his commentator role on TNT's "Inside The NBA," and T-Mobile pulled TV spots that featured Barkley and Dwayne Wade. But the spots, including a new one, returned during coverage of the NBA All-Star Game in February, and Barkley himself, albeit a tad more humble, returned on-air shortly thereafter.
"McEnroe and Barkley are two men who have been able to leverage their 'bad boy' image for years," says Meindl. "I don't see the same for Plaxico Burress [NFL receiver who this year suffered an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound and currently is awaiting sentencing on criminal possession of a handgun]. Compared to what we have seen athletes involved with over the past few years, getting caught for steroids is like a parking ticket in the eyes of the fan."
NOTE: The lyrics quoted above are by Inner Circle, which first appeared on their 1987 release, One Way.