January 30, 2007
Not All Sports Icons Are Created Equal
By RICHARD SANDOMIR
There are more than a dozen buildings on Nike’s campus named for famous endorsers like Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Mia Hamm, Ken Griffey Jr., Pete Sampras, Lance Armstrong and John McEnroe.
But there isn’t a latrine with Roger Federer’s name on it, let alone a tennis shoe. “Give it some time,” said Dean Stoyer, a Nike spokesman.
During ESPN2’s coverage of the Australian Open (live Sunday at 3:30 a.m.), there wasn’t a Nike or Wilson commercial to celebrate Federer,
who beat Fernando González to win his 10th Grand Slam singles title.
But during CBS’s broadcast of Tiger Woods’s Buick Invitational victory Sunday, Buick inaugurated a campaign packed with five commercials,
including one in which Woods chased and tackled a character who swiped his golf bag and balls. Buick has worked for months on the campaign and even released a minute’s worth of behind-the-scenes footage to YouTube.
“Tiger is all confidence on the course, and we’re about confidence on the road,” said Maria Rohrer, Buick’s marketing director, describing the theme of the ads. “His confidence drives quality.” (She said Woods actually drives Buicks once he is on location at a tournament.)
The final round of the Buick generated a 5.6 overnight Nielsen rating, while the live Australian Open final produced a mere 0.5; an afternoon replay did considerably better, but still produced a slim 0.9, which means fewer than 900,000 households watched Federer’s victory in (our) daylight.
Such are the parallel lives of these icons who are so far above their rivals. Woods is from a country that invented marketing excess, while Federer is from a neutral nation renowned for its stance against bellicosity.
Both are clients of IMG, which is not known for its shyness in marketing its stable of stars. Woods was introduced to the professional world in August 1996 already the star of his “Hello World” Nike campaign.
Federer has been more selective, or to a great degree was forced to be selective until he secured his iconic status.
Still, his Q score — a measure of his awareness and appeal — stood at a 14 (Serena Williams was a 26) among sports fans, compared with Woods’s 40, when last calculated in the spring of 2006. In 2004, Federer’s Q score was a 10.
Another measurement of Federer’s standing in the marketing world is his DBI Score, created by the Davie-Brown talent agency in Dallas, which connects celebrities with companies. Federer’s 44.8 DBI is less than half the 86.1 for Woods, which can be explained primarily by how new Federer is to many people. His awareness score of 30.1 lags well behind Woods’s 95.3
But Federer is competitive with Woods, Jordan and Armstrong in other areas that make up the DBI, like appeal, trustworthiness and the degree to which respondents felt he would be an effective product endorser.
Scott Sanford, a senior client director for Davie-Brown, says he expects an explosion of interest by marketers in Federer now that he is being talked about as perhaps the greatest men’s tennis player.
“He’s been able to dominate his sport for so long that people in the United States are taking notice,” Sanford said. He added that he did not believe that being Swiss, and being a star in tennis, which lacks the higher profile of golf, would hinder Federer’s marketing success.
“Over the next six months to a year, you’ll see his potential rise to what Tiger and Lance have done,” he said. That audacious view is not shared by Bob Williams, chief executive of Burns Entertainment & Sports Marketing. “Tennis is holding Roger Federer back,” he said.
“Major advertisers look at the popularity of a sport.”
He added that Federer had not exhibited much charisma, which Woods has in abundance on the course and in his commercials.
But Henry Schafer, executive vice president of Marketing Evaluations, the Q Scores Company, said that Federer’s grace and the likelihood of much greater exposure would help snare much bigger deals.
“He has charisma and very few negatives,” Schafer said.
At Wilson, Federer is a deity. He starred in commercials in 2004 and 2005 for the nCode racket technology, and he will be the centerpiece of a campaign later this year to introduce the new “[K] Factor” technology. Federer used his [K]Factor racket in Australia, and from day to day, spectators and viewers might have espied his racket bag imprinted with different messages like “Take [K]ontrol” and “[K]now the Difference.”
“We’re tying our sports brand to an iconic sports brand in Federer,” said Jon Muir, the general manager of Wilson Racquet Sports.
Muir acknowledged that it was easier to market an American-born athlete, like Woods, to an American audience, but “Roger has advanced from being a player from one country to a player from any country.” He said Wilson’s [K]Factor ads would not contrive a brasher identity for Federer, but would rely on what Muir called his “classic persona and contemporary performance.”
Whether Nike will follow Wilson into building a Federer campaign, in time for the United States Open, is not known. But his status should awaken Nike’s imagemakers to use an underutilized star.
“Given the roll he’s on,” Stoyer said, “we can never say never.”
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company