In the name of sport

Sports manufacturer Diadora will not be the first or last brand owner to consider giving a celebrity the boot. Since the very public attack by Stan Collymore on Ulrika Jonsson, Diadora has refused to say whether it will cancel the boot deal with the Aston Villa striker.

Less than two years ago, Paul Gascoigne faced a similar crisis following his wife-beating shame. The incident prompted speculation that his four-year 2.5m boot deal with Adidas was under threat.

Even the saintly Glenn Hoddle – manager of England’s World Cup squad – has been touched by controversy. Cereal Partners, maker of Shredded Wheat, decided to drop TV ads for the brand featuring Hoddle and his family, after it was announced he and his wife were to split.

The message is clear: brands get involved with celebrities at their peril.

Matthew Patten, chief executive of M&C Saatchi Sponsorship, says: “The reality is that none of us is perfect. There are skeletons in every closet and brands that get involved with individual endorsements need to do so with their eyes open.”

Patten’s team carries out thorough checks to ensure that clients’ brands are exposed to minimum risk. But he warns: “That’s the danger with individuals: they are impossible to control.”

Past press cuttings are perused and the stars assessed to see whether or not they are media friendly. Then Patten’s team interviews people who work behind the scenes alongside the stars. “We also talk to the individuals themselves in a straightforward fashion, clearly outlining their responsibilities,” says Patten.

Lawyers are then given the task of distilling those responsibilities in writing – in the hope of minimising loopholes. Most contracts for individuals now include what is known as a “break clause”, which enables the sponsor to terminate the contract if a celebrity lets the brand down.

That’s what Pepsi must have activated when it cancelled the sponsorship deal for Michael Jackson after the singer pulled out of his tour when some far from flattering speculation about his personal life emerged.

Celebrities themselves may seek to trigger a break clause if the product they are endorsing attracts negative publicity, for instance during a food scare.

Brand marketers should also ensure the celebrity is only signed up for the length of a campaign, with an option to use him or her at a later date. This limits the period of exposure and ensures that the brand is not anchored to a celebrity who subsequently loses credibility.

“Fashion and music change constantly and you make sure you don’t tie yourself up with celebrities in these fields for too long,” says Nick Candy, sponsorship director of CDP. “You should never get into the situation where you are lumbered with a star who’s not hot.”

The exception to the rule is the sports brand. Stars are signed up for lengthy periods at early stages in their careers as a means of warding off intense competition and keeping the contract price low. Even so, brand owners which have entered into commercially astute deals may come under pressure to alter the terms of an agreement.

Liverpool player Steve McManaman (26) is at the centre of a legal row with Umbro over the terms of his ten-year boot deal, which he signed as an 18-year-old.

Canny celebrities may try to negotiate deals which see them safely into retirement. For instance, Alan Shearer is reported to have secured a boot deal with Umbro for 15 years for the reported sum of 25m.

However, for some brand owners controversy is ideal. According to Ruud Gullit’s agent Phil Smith, a director of The First Artist Corporation, this was certainly the case with Pizza Hut. The company managed to capitalise on his sudden departure from Chelsea with a spoof ad featuring Gullit advertising his own services.

Another brand which is content to live with controversy is Converse which has produced a line of products, including a basketball shoe, featuring the shirt number of Chicago Bulls player Dennis Rodman – 91. Rodman’s lifestyle is colourful, to say the least.

It is up to agents to ensure sports stars are professional and commercially acceptable to brands, says Chris Meredith, a director of sponsorship consultancy CSS International. “Certain players are very professional, and when it comes to tie-ups with brands, they know their responsibilities. It’s down to the individual.”

Of course, it’s not always an individual who lets the brand down. Sensationally, sprinter Quincy Watts was being hailed as a rising 400m track star when he was literally stopped in his tracks by a Nike running shoe which fell apart. “That counts as a product failure,” says Graham Anderson, PR manager for Nike UK. “We work with thousands of athletes round the world and 99.9 per cent of the products work for them.”

Like most sports brand owners, Nike works alongside athletes trying to develop the best products. Anderson points to the success achieved by 400m star Michael Johnson’s extremely lightweight gold shoes.

When it comes to signing up sports stars, the Nike management employs marketing experts who were once players or athletes themselves. Within the team is former Arsenal winger Brian Marwood, head of football sports marketing. As well as relying on tip-offs from friends, contacts in the game and approaches from agents, Marwood tours football stadia and watches league games.

Although Nike runs soccer and tennis camps for youngsters, Anderson says it is not organised with the intention of spotting future stars.

Adidas employs a range of schemes, including scouts, contacts with coaches and ex-players, and grass roots sports’ competitions, to look for youngsters.

It was through one of these competitions – the Adidas Tennis Challenge – that the company spotted Tim Henman and signed him up at the age of 16. The same programme spawned the signing this year of Lee Childs – the under-16 national tennis champion who boasts a 125mph serve.

Two years ago, through a contact with the England Schools’ Team, Adidas also came discovered one of its latest footballing recruits. But it was not until this year that it signed up West Ham’s 16-year-old Joe Coles, who attends the Football Association School at Lilleshall.

“The deal is small: at the start a few thousand pounds, plus kit,” says Martin. “At that age it’s important to kit them out in the right gear and we then give them incentives as we go along.” Adidas also provides support for the Golf Federation, but has yet to find a budding Nick Faldo.

One sport that Adidas was reluctantly obliged to scour for a brand symbol was boxing – in the shape of Prince Naseem. The company is not involved at a grass-roots level with the sport in the UK and cites the small number of boxing boots sales as the reason why.

But its monthly research among 16- to 24-year-olds on attitudes to the brand revealed Naseem was hot.

“We signed Prince Naseem as a brand symbol because he relates to the target market so well,” says Martin. “About 80 per cent of the industry’s shoe products are worn on the street and Naseem can relate to that target market.”

The ten-fight deal, reported to be worth 10m, was signed two years ago. Now nine fights into the agreement, Adidas is in discussions with the boxer to renew the deal. Signing up Naseem at his peak meant paying millions. Manchester United star David Beckham, now aged 23, signed a new seven-year boot deal last year reported to be worth 2.5m.

“Kids are being signed up much younger these days,” says Martin. “We try to sign them up for as long as possible – five years and more – to build a relationship.”

Product testing and dummy appearances in ads are all part of that relationship, which inevitably is a changing one. Paul Gascoigne – the face of Adidas during Euro 96 – featured in ads for Predator boots. Now, it seems, he’s over the hill – and there’s one year left to go on his boot deal.

“{Gascoigne} is coming to the end of his career and he has helped sell a lot of Predator boots, but Beckham has now come in and almost transcends the sport with his appeal to a mass audience,” says Martin.

To keep up with who’s hot and who’s not, Patten’s team talks regularly to magazine and newspaper editors. At the moment Michael Owen, the 18-year-old Liverpool and World Cup striker, and pop star Robbie Williams are in vogue.

Managing director of Tissot Malcolm Douglas described Owen as “a leader of his generation”, after securing a major sponsorship deal with him earlier this month.

Where does Patten expect to find the future forcing houses of star talent? He believes the British film industry, which is enjoying a renaissance, will soon produce a figure of the same stature as Titanic star Leonardo di Caprio. Alternative sports, such as snow boarding, are also on his list, because they are so closely linked with street style.

Honda has already highlighted the potential of snow-boarding by sponsoring the British Championships in Switzerland this year.

Nick Candy, sponsorship director of CDP, offers a different perspective. He encourages clients to consider indirect product endorsement which he says can be much cheaper. “By sponsoring events indirectly, brands are perceived to be endorsed by the stars,” says Candy.

He points to Canon’s sponsorship of the England Team and the World Cup. On an away-day, England players were invited to pose for a press ad for Canon’s Sure Shot product. Although they had no individual agreements with Canon, David Seaman, Les Ferdinand, Ian Wright and Robert Lee all volunteered.

The pitfalls of product endorsement are there for all to see. For most companies such deals are too risky. Even well-known sports brands such as Nike and Umbro – which have no choice but to be associated with top sportspeople – are taking a gamble. Look no further than Beckham – the Adidas World Cup icon – who was relegated to the subs bench for the England team’s first game.

Stars of the Future

Nick Candy, sponsorship director at CDP recommends Anna Friel the actress, best known for her role as Beth Jordache in Brookside. “She is talented and has started to appear in films. Plus she has not been used by any brands, as far as I’m aware.”

Rob Norman, former senior vice-president of Prisma Sports & Media, the sports, TV and marketing agency, and now with The Tempus Group, tips Jonny Wilkinson, the 18-year-old rugby fly-half who has just played his first England international. He also thinks England defender Rio Ferdinand (above) could do well. “His [Ferdinand’s] mixed background, like that of Tiger Woods, gives him that world citizenship appeal.”

Martin Glenn, vice-president, commercial, of Frito-Lay Europe, recommends Emil Heskey, the Leicester City striker who has played for the England under-21 team. Glenn says: “He’s got a bright future. You could see him advertising crisps at some stage.” Glenn also tips Cleopatra, a girl group, as “hotish”.

David Graham, director of carbonates for Britvic Soft Drinks, says: “The Singapore-born violinist Vanessa Mae could be the next Nigel Kennedy – although she would not be right for us. She has certainly not been widely used.”

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