*this post was originally published on Forbes.com
The amount of money involved in college and professional sports is rather mind boggling.
St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols has been unwilling to agree to a contract because his team offered him $19 million annually and he’d rather have $23 million. The Dallas Cowboys were just deemed the most valuable National Football League team at a mere $1.8 billion. Tiger Woods, who’s career is seemingly in a death spiral made, gulp, $75 million between May 2010 – May 2011.
If not for playing in Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers would be most marketable
So for all our discussion about a down economy — somehow, somewhere, consumers are managing to help make people in sports entertainment remain very, very wealthy.
But from a marketing perspective, which of these “people” do we most desire to see hocking products? Which athletes inspire us to open our wallets? Who should companies and brands most want to enrich for endorsing their products?
Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. But here’s the American athletes who I believe to be most marketable, as well as those who I’d run from.
My Top 5
- Tom Brady: He near flawlessly plays the quarterback position for one of the best and most visible teams (New England Patriots) in the most visible American sport (NFL). He’s good looking, married to a super model, never says the wrong thing, and as a result, made some $30 million last year.
- Aaron Rodgers: If he played quarterback for the New York Jets and not in Green Bay, the recent Super Bowl MVP might well be the most marketable athlete in America. But his off-field workload is picking up. As Dale Buss of BrandChannel recently wrote, General Mills is featuring the Green Bay Packers Super Bowl MVP quarterback on boxes of Wheaties for a month — but only in Wisconsin. However, as you can hear in this recent humor interview I conducted with Rodgers for the American Mustache Institute — he’s gold.
- Shaun White: Want to reach Millennials or people who are into extreme sports? There’s a reason White made $8.8 million last year. The message — don’t underestimate extreme sports or red heads.
- Peyton Manning: Busted neck and all, and despite playing in Indianapolis, Manning earned an estimated $30 million last year. Yes, he’s getting on in years, but when healthy, he’s still an elite quarterback and says and does the right things on and off the field.
- Michael Phelps: He smoked what? Oh, yeah, well, who cares? At least, apparently not corporate America as the Olympic swimming champion took home $53.3 million in 2010 earnings. That’s $53 million for a guy who competes in a sport that no one really cares about and roughly seven people watch live during competition.
- Michael Vick: Dog killer. Felon. Say what you want about him, but Americans believe in redemption, as I’ve written prior relative to Vick. He’s doing and saying the right things, and winning tends to cure all for better or worse. Just ask Nike, who recently re-signed Vick to a new deal.
Who I’d Avoid
- Lance Armstrong: I don’t care that he earned $15.3 million last year. A cloud of uncertainty, doping allegations, and sagging relevance (at least to U.S. audiences) surrounds him. Plus, can we please chill with the unnecessary biking shorts? I beg you biking community — the rest of us just don’t need to see that.
- LeBron James: Due to James’ petulant ESPN special announcing his signing with the Miami Heat last year, he’s the most hated man amongst the current NBA greats, which as a league continues to struggle in cities that do not have league franchises. It’s a shame as he’s may be the most talented basketball player in history when it’s all said and done.
- Jimmie Johnson: He embodies what NASCAR wants to be — smart, clean-cut, good-natured, appreciative of sponsors, and most important, a winner. The problem is, fans hate Johnson for the same reasons he should be so bankable — being bright, clean-cut, good natured, and a winner.
- Curtis Granderson: Curtis who? Oh yeah, the guy who’s having one of the greatest statistical New York Yankee seasons in recent memory while playing for the most visible team in his sport. He even has a great foundation. But ask non-Yankees fans if they know who he is and you get crickets.
- Tiger Woods: While it would seem his personal problems are a thing of the past, at least for now his play has not improved for a number of reasons including injury, arrogance, disinterest in engaging a reputable swing coach, et al. Two years from now he might once again be the best golfer on the planet, but for now he’s best left to his own devices and enormous savings account.
- Any American Male Tennis Player: No one cares, and if you do, move to France.