Besides playing the sports they love, why do professional athletes want to become professional athletes in the first place? Usually to make money. And in an age where celebrities are used (maybe even overused) by companies to endorse products, there’s no question that athletes expect and get a piece of that pie.
Some of the most successful advertising campaigns of all time are a result of athletes becoming the faces of a company or product. In 1989, Nike aired “Bo Knows,” which features Bo Jackson (who achieved all-star status as both a Football and Baseball player) trying his hand at several different sports, with other all-time greats such as Hulk Hogan and Wayne Gretzky. This led to a wildly successful campaign that has been followed by sequels, parodies, and pop culture references. In the 90s, Michael Jordan starred in a Gatorade commercial now called “Be Like Mike” that featured a combination of a brief highlight reel, playing with neighborhood kids, and drinking Gatorade before and after each segment. That advertisement was recently remade, only this version features shorts of Jordan in the NBA 2K video game and of current NBA all-star Carmelo Anthony and Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton singing to the tune of the song.
In both of those advertisements, the link between the company and the athlete makes sense. Nike is the largest athletic apparel and equipment in the world, and Gatorade accounts for approximately 75 percent market share in the sports drink category. Why do they make sense? Because Bo Jackson actually wore Nike apparel all day every day, and Michael Jordan actually drank Gatorade to aid in his athletic performance.
What’s happening now is different. Now in days, companies endorse athletes even if their products or services have nothing to do with sports. What’s the association between Call of Duty and basketball? Probably none, right? Don’t tell that to Clippers guard Blake Griffin who recently starred in a GameFly commercial that him flying around on a jet pack in a suit. When was the last time you saw a quarterback wearing blue jeans during a game? Never; but that’s not stopping Brett Favre and Drew Brees from rocking out their jeans for Wrangler commercials. Is Sprite a beverage that many athletes would drink, if any, for that matter? Probably not very frequently; even though LeBron James now has his own Sprite edition. And Seahawks’ star running back Marshawn Lynch participating in a Beacon Plumbing commercial is just sad.
Maybe professional athletes just want to make as much money as they can however they can. Maybe companies that find themselves losing market share are desperate to attach a famous name to their products or services. But the truth is that pairing athletes with companies that are irrelevant to the athlete and his/her sport is poor marketing and comes at a cost financially and against the integrity of the brand.