By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
December 15, 2010: Some people are referring to Michael Vick's current status in the NFL as the Mother of All Comebacks. Others are wishing that he had never come back at all.
Either way, there is no denying that Vick has re-established himself as a premiere quarterback, and that players, fans and marketers are taking notice. His Philadelphia Eagles' No. 7 jersey is among the best-sellers in the league, he tops all players in Pro Bowl voting and the Eagles have been setting record numbers when they appear on Fox, CBS, NBC and ESPN. The Eagles are 9-4 going into their road game against the New York Giants on Dec. 19, in contention for a division title and a playoff berth.
Even Vick would admit that he has a long way to go. But most telling is that companies are again willing to attach, or are at least considering attaching, Vick to their products. In what is being called his first endorsement deal since re-entering the league, Vick has signed on as a spokesman for Woodbury Nissan, a car dealership in New Jersey. Vick appears in a local TV spot and could make personal appearances.
Reports claim that Vick is not getting paid for the ad buy does get the use of a custom Nissan Armada valued in excess of $50,000. However, industry analysts say the deal is worth a great deal in Vick's public image rehabilitation. Off the field he has focused on working with animal rights activists, shelters and other groups dedicated to the protection and welfare of animals, speaking to groups ranging from school kids to adults. But Woodbury Nissan putting him front and center speaks to the initial return of his selling power as a company spokesman.
At his apex, Vick earned about $100 million a year in salary from the Atlanta Falcons and endorsements from companies including Nike, Coca-Cola, Kraft, EA Sports and Hasbro prior to spending 23 months in prison for his role in a dog-fighting ring. Analysts say it is highly unlikely that his endorsements would again even approach $8-$10 million. But the steamroller that is Vick's comeback, which continues to gain momentum, is not without precedent.
Kobe Bryant of the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers and Ray Lewis of the NFL's Baltimore Ravens are among the most prominent pro athletes who faced a personal crisis and returned to fan and marketing favoritism. Bryant in 2003 was arrested after a female employ at a hotel in which he was staying accused him of sexual assault. The case eventually was settled out of court, but not before numerous companies had either dropped their endorsement deals with him or severely curtailed his participation. Now, Bryant's jersey is among the best sellers both domestically and overseas and he has solid deals with Nike and PepsiCo's Gatorade, among others, although his annual endorsement income is about a quarter of the estimated $40 million-plus he earned at one point.
Lewis in 2000 was involved in a fight that resulted in the death of two men. Charges against Lewis were dropped in exchange for his testimony against tow other men at the scene, both of whom eventually were acquitted of the charges. This season, Lewis has been the star of a multi-media marketing effort from Procter & Gamble's Old Spice brand.
For Vick, his status as one of the NFL's top quarterbacks has been ratings gold. The Dec. 12 game on NBC between the Eagles and Dallas Cowboys was the highest rated in Sunday Night Football history, and with more than 25.7 million viewers was the top-rated network show of the night. The Eagles, in fact, have attracted record numbers on TV throughout the season. According to the NFL, 28 million viewers saw the Eagles-Green Bay Packers on Fox on Sept, 12, 27.8 million saw the Eagles-Indianapolis Colts Nov. 7 on CBS, 26.6 million viewed the Eagles-Chicago Bears Nov. 28 on Fox, 23.2 million saw the Eagles-Giants on Nov. 21 on NBC's Sunday Night Football and 23.1 million saw the Eagles-Washington Redskins on Oct. 3 on Fox.
On ESPN, the Monday Night Football Nov. 15 game between the Eagles and Redskins, won by Philadelphia 59-28, attracted more than 15 million viewers, the sixth most-watched cable program of the year to date. The Pro Football Hall of Fame asked for his jersey following the game, during in which he passed for four touchdowns and ran for two more.
Looking ahead, NBC had the NFL move the Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles game on Dec. 26 to 8:20 PM for prime-time exposure. And he is on line to start in the Pro Bowl in Hawaii the week after Super Bowl XLV: As of Dec. 15, official NFL totals have Vick at the top with 981,687 votes, about 34,000 ahead of Tom Brady and 180,000 votes ahead of Peyton Manning.
The humorous Woodbury Nissan spot seems to reflect the feeling that Vick has become comfortable with his post-prison life. In "The Showdown," Tom McMenamin, general manager at the car dealership, relates, "Getting Mike was a really great addition to our team. From Day 1, he came in and he really hit the ground running." He later adds, "With his great leadership he really took command of our team."
Seated at a table recreating a press conference, Vick says of his being hired, "Everybody here at Woodbury Nissan has been treating me great." But there appear to be underlying motives to the alliance. One co-worker offers support but has his photo taken with Vick, who is shown throughout wearing his Eagles' No. 7 jersey. Another guy asks him to sign contracts and puts a football in front of him to autograph. "Make that one out to Tom," says the guy, who then proudly shows off his new trophy.
As of Dec. 15, official NFL totals have Vick leading all players for the Pro Bowl, with 981,687 votes, about 34,000 ahead of Tom Brady.
Vick seems to be trying his best to fit it. He says to a co-worker, "I found a way we can save our customers more money." Vick is later shown quarterbacking a meeting and explaining his tactics by using a board filled with X's and O's. But there is a downside: He makes rookie mistakes such as thinking he's getting a top-of-the-line demo SUV for his personal use rather than a lower-end compact; and when a co-worker asks to be thrown a set of keys, Vick reverts to quarterback mode and passes them top speed right at the guy's hand, leaving a nasty bruise. Making the best of his injury, the guy wonders if Vick can sign his injured hand.
The spot is on YouTube and playing on the company's Web site in addition to local programming. (See full spot here.)