The price of being Barry
Tainted image costs Bonds millions in endorsements
Posted: Friday July 20, 2007 12:24PM; Updated: Friday July 20, 2007 1:58PM
In another world, Barry Bonds' chase for Hank Aaron's home run record would be the story of the century, the cementing of a legacy and perhaps the most triumphant achievement in the history of sports.
If things were a little different, Bonds could have been one of the greatest heroes we've ever seen in American pop culture, a giant of a man and an unprecedented role model. And as he flirts with history, Bonds could be cashing in like virtually no other athlete.
But he's not. Bonds' pursuit of 756 has become the asterisk of legend, infamously dubious because of steroid allegations that will dog him for decades. To make matters worse, he's been fingered with possible perjury in front of a grand jury and charges of tax evasion.
And the icing on the bitter cake is Bonds' personality, which is pricklier than a saguaro cactus. All of this adds up to a superstar whose very scowl leaves everyone feeling cold -- especially corporate America.
Sports Illustrated estimates Bonds' annual take in endorsements (athletic-shoe manufacturer Fila and batting glove-maker Franklin), appearance fees and memorabilia sales at $2 million. But how much more would the Giants slugger be hauling in if he had a winning smile and the spotless reputation of, say, a Derek Jeter or an Albert Pujols?
I enlisted the help of Burns Entertainment & Sports Marketing -- a Chicago-area firm that matches athletes and celebs with corporations seeking famous pitchmen -- to help craft a mock endorsement portfolio for Bonds, based on existing deals for other high-profile athletes who are more fan-friendly. The results are striking: Bonds might be leaving nearly $30 million a year on the table. (See chart, right.)
No baseball player comes close to that number. The sport's top pitchman, Jeter, earns an estimated $7 million annually from endorsements, and his teammate Alex Rodriguez trails closely at $6 million. The NFL's No. 1 salesman, Peyton Manning, makes $13 million. Even basketball's top endorser, LeBron James, tops out at $25 million a year. A projected $30 million annual haul would put Bonds third only to Phil Mickelson ($47 million) and Tiger Woods (who makes an estimated $100 million a year).
"Bonds could be one of the most marketable athletes of all time," says Burns president Doug Shabelman, "and you can't buy publicity like he has: He's a homegrown hero playing for the local team, he's about to break the record just four years after the death of his father [Bobby], another Bay Area icon, and his godfather is Willie Mays, maybe one of the most beloved players in history."
It's the stuff of Hollywood. Corporate America loves to rally around popular pitchmen, especially when the drama surrounding them is highest, Shabelman says. Woods' portfolio saw a spike after he rebounded from a terrible slump in the months after his father, Earl, died last year. After rape charges against Kobe Bryant were dropped in late '04, his endorsement earnings shot back up.
So what are the endorsements that Bonds is missing out on? Chief among them, and the prize possession in any star athlete's portfolio, is a shoe deal. Woods and Michael Jordan set the bar with their Nike contracts, as did James, with a seven-year, $90 million deal straight out of high school in '03.
Bonds would likely get the same treatment, and would perhaps have his own line within the company, as Jordan does. In fact, Fila discontinued its line of Bonds cross-trainers in '04 and scrapped plans for a Bonds kids' baseball cleat as the whispers of steroid use grew louder. Burns figures such a deal could earn Bonds as much as $10 million a year.
Other big-ticket items include video-game companies such as EA Sports, which not only pay endorsers such as Woods and Reggie Bush flat fees, but also toss them a share of royalties from sales. Then there's soft-drink and sports-drink manufacturers: Coke, Pepsi and Gatorade have enlisted the likes of Jeter and A-Rod.