Austin cyclist Lance Armstrong – who just stepped down from the board of his Livestrong charity – let down a lot of people after revelations emerged about his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs. Among those who were most disappointed were Armstrong’s sponsors, including Nike and Anheuser-Busch, which dropped their multimillion-dollar endorsement deals with the fallen star.
If you’re seeking another bankable Austin athlete to cheer for, fear not. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, an Austin native who graduated from Westlake High School, is scoring millions of dollars as one of the country’s top brand ambassadors. Right now, he’s appearing in ads for big brands like Chase, NyQuil and Pepsi.
Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, says brands are drawn to Brees thanks to three traits – charisma, character and visibility. Brees led the Saints to a Super Bowl victory in 2010.
“When you’re a Super Bowl champion and record-breaking quarterback like Drew, you automatically have a place in consideration for endorsements,” says Darin David, senior director of sports marketing at The Marketing Arm, a marketing agency in Dallas. “Couple that with all the good he’s done to help revitalize New Orleans and his professional approach to working with brands, and you have the perfect combination.”
"He appears as a stronger leader as he attempts to pull his team out of the bounty scandal he had nothing to do with, and he keeps piling up records." - Darin David
That combination certainly is paying off for Brees.
In September, Forbes magazine placed Brees atop its list of the highest-paid football players. Forbes pegged his total earnings at $49.4 million – $44.4 million from his on-the-field work and $5 million from his off-the-field work, Forbes says. In January, Brees took the No. 1 spot on Bloomberg Businessweek magazine’s Power 100, a ranking of the top-performing pro athletes that takes into account factors like total earnings, social media presence and name recognition. Businessweek says Brees earned $16 million last year from endorsement deals.
The Marketing Arm’s Celebrity DBI, an index that measures consumer perceptions of more than 2,800 celebrities, shows Brees is known by nearly six of every 10 American consumers. That puts him on par with Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, who lives in Georgetown. As for likeability, Brees ranks along alongside actors Bruce Willis and Jake Gyllenhaal. And on the endorsement scale, Brees shares turf with Jennifer Aniston and Jack Nicklaus.
“Drew’s future possibilities improve by the day,” David says. “He appears as a stronger leader as he attempts to pull his team out of the bounty scandal he had nothing to do with, and he keeps piling up records. It doesn’t hurt that he appears very natural in the Pepsi and NyQuil ads. You can be a great player, but you need to be able to deliver on camera.”
Swangard adds: “He’s had a nice run. While not as valuable after his playing days are over, I can see Drew having a post-playing endorsement career.”
From an endorsement standpoint, Brees now stands head and shoulders above Armstrong.
Swangard calls the Armstrong affair “one of the saddest stories in sports marketing history. But the recent decisions by major brands to drop him were absolutely the right decisions.”
David says Armstrong is “a cautionary tale for brands.”
“With his courageous story and his Livestrong … work, he was the gold standard for endorsers only a few years ago,” David says. “Now, with his personal activities and the blood-doping allegations, he is a pariah. Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong are the examples that you are never completely safe when tying your brand to a celebrity.”