Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Endorsement deals turn sour for Roethlisberger Add to ...

Maybe the saying, "everyone loves a winner" doesn't always hold true.

Should Ben Roethlisberger hoist his third Vince Lombardi Trophy on Sunday, he will join an elite group of quarterbacks that have done the same. Men highly respected in the football world - Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, Troy Aikman and Tom Brady.

But would that achievement earn the Pittsburgh Steelers star more interest from corporate sponsors? Not likely, experts in sports advertising and public relations say.

"It's fair to say he's on his redemption tour right now, and he has a huge platform on Sunday, and has done a good job of expressing a new commitment," said Shawn McBride of Ketchum Sports & Entertainment, a company that matches brands like Tostitos and companies like Monster.com with athlete endorsers. "But in this time of recession, companies are being very safe, and I don't see anyone risking big marketing dollars on him any time soon."

Roethlisberger has twice been accused of sexual assault, but never charged. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended the 28-year-old quarterback for four games to start the 2010 season for violating the league's personal conduct policy.

McBride points to a January poll done by E-Poll Market Research, which he says is a reputable source of consumer information for corporate sponsors looking to work with celebrities. E-Poll surveyed more than 1,000 adults on their attitudes toward active sports figures.

Roethlisberger's "dislike" score dropped to 39 per cent from 57 per cent in the same poll last year, but is still way above the 13-per-cent average found for all athletes. To compare, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, who spent time in prison for his part in running a dogfighting ring, improved his dislike score to 56 per cent from 69 per cent last year.

So if Roethlisberger puts on a performance for the ages on Sunday, and walks away the winner, would McBride expect to get businesses enquiring about the quarterback as a potential celebrity endorser?

"No, we have been getting a lot of calls about possible 'up and comers' in this Super Bowl game, guys who could become great celebrity spokespeople," said McBride, noting that Green Bay Packers defenders B.J Raji and Clay Matthews have been creating buzz. "But not about Roethlisberger. That is going to take more time."

Advertisers look to E-Poll, Nielsen Co. or Davie Brown Entertainment to gauge public sentiment about certain celebrities - measuring attributes like appeal and trustworthiness - and Roethlisberger tends to score low in those areas now, according to McBride, although he would score high on athletic performance.

Consulting firms observe the impact of a celebrity's images before focus groups and do extensive background checks on them.

"The market for Ben is very limited - he doesn't have the appeal of [New England Patriots quarterback]Tom Brady," said David Reeder of GreenLight, an advertising and merchandise licensing firm. "He can't do national commercials. If he chooses contrition and humility after the game, he may get the interest of regional sponsors. From there, he may climb the ladder over time and maybe big national brands way down the line."

Roethlisberger used to endorse a brand of beef jerky, and he lost that marketing deal with PLB Sports in April of 2010. He has been on Nike's roster since his first NFL season, but the company hasn't used him in advertising since 2009.

The advertising world aside, what about the public?

"I believe Roethlisberger has already joined the pantheon of what I call 'asterisks athletes,' " Michael Smith, a professor of public relations at La Salle University in Philadelphia, said in an e-mail. "These are athletes whose prowess on the field or court is offset in the public mind by their personal foibles or felonies off. For many, [Michael]Vick will always be the dog-abusing all-pro quarterback; Big Ben will be the boorish Super Bowl champion [if the Steelers win again]"

The Roethlisberger camp says the quarterback's public image is far more important than endorsement deals.

"Ben is not concerned with endorsement deals at this point, but he is deeply concerned with public perception," Roethlisberger's agent, Ryan Tollner, told CNBC.com this week. "This guy has been working so hard to change public perception.

"Not by listening to a PR company or a publicist and not by doing a national sit-down. They all offered. He wants to win people back with the day-to-day interactions with them, and that's what he has been doing."

 

In the know

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular