Even by boxing's standards, it was an eye-catching publicity stunt. For his pay-per-view tide bout against middleweight champion Felix Trinidad last September, Bernard Hopkins wore a temporary tattoo featuring the URL Golden-Palace.com across his back. The online casino paid Hopkins $100,000 for the ad, which the casino says has more than paid off in increased hits on its website. For his part Hopkins says, "I'd put tattoos on my forehead if they paid me."
Clearly, the final frontier for sports marketers—the human body—is now open for business. Since its experiment with Hopkins, GoldenPalace.com has tattooed more than two dozen boxers with its name. Last spring the Lincoln ( Neb.) Lightning, an Arena Football 2 team, put tattoo logos on the midriffs of its cheerleaders. Fans are also fair game: In November the Class A Daytona Cubs announced a promotion in which any fan who got the team's logo permanently tattooed on his body would receive a lifetime pass to home games. Also, several unnamed players on the women's tennis tour have reportedly said they'd be willing to wear a tattooed endorsement for $1.5 million.
Predictably, tattoo ads have critics. In February the Nevada Athletic Commission banned the practice, calling it "demeaning to the sport" and distracting to judges. GoldenPalace.com challenged the commission, and last week a Nevada District Court ruled in favor of the casino, saying the ban violated a right to free speech. The issue has bubbled over in the NBA as well. Last year, when the Blazers' Rasheed Wallace considered a deal to wear a temporary tattoo ad, the NBA quickly asserted that players are prohibited from wearing ads anywhere but on their shoes. Wallace turned down the ad, not because of the NBA but because, as his agent, Bill Strickland, put it, it would have "detracted from the integrity of his current body art."
Tattooed endorsements are likely to become an increasingly thorny issue. None of the major pro leagues, including the NBA, specifically addresses them in its regulations, and several athletes have said they'd consider body art ads. "I'd do it for the right price," says Heat forward Kendall Gill. "This is a business. You've got to take advantage of your opportunities."
"Now that we have a legal precedent, we're going to push the issue even more," says Hopkins's agent, Joe Lear, who's also negotiating tattoo deals for tennis players, golfers and racehorse owners. "For example, the side of the horse's neck is a prime spot."