"Think like you just got a $500 fine," Lois says. The tears are running short. The tear lady is put on guard. "I want my Maypo," Yaz says, crying again. "All right, replenish the tears," Holland calls out. "Fast with them, we're going to keep rolling." She rushes in with the tear dispatcher and hurriedly fixes him up. "All right, fly out, dear, fly out, we're filming." Yaz braces on the stool, surveying the scene. "I want my Maypo," he wails. It is beginning to look as if he really wants to cry.
That Yastrzemski ever got to the Maypo high chair is something of a switch, for by far the largest share of national endorsement plums goes to athletes on New York teams. Recently this parochialism has been diminishing, although now that New York teams are winning again the Madison Avenue purview appears to be narrowing once more. Obviously part of the reason for the bias is ignorance: a lot of agency men have never heard of any but New York athletes. They go to a party and everybody is talking about the Giants, so they presume, apparently, that this random sampling is evidence that everybody in America is interested in the Giants. So they look no further when it is time to seek an endorsement.
Similarly, the agencies reinforce each other. Once an athlete gets a foot in the door and makes one commercial he is a good bet to make another. To Madison Avenue, a player who made a razor commercial is, ipso facto, better known than some stiff who is only hitting .335 with 43 home runs. Why? Because he made a commercial.
To be sure, the New York bias is not alone the province of admen. The national media are just as guilty, and at the other end of the country a similar disproportionate amount of attention and outside employment is lavished on Los Angeles athletes, whose payoff is TV and movie scripts. The man who suffers everywhere—East and West—is the black athlete, but as long as the U.S. consumer population is better than 85% white, white athletes will be selected for endorsements in great numbers even though more than half of the star athletes in the country's primary sports are black. To this day Frank Robinson has never been approached for a national endorsement. Jim Brown did not get one until 1965, his final season. Less than 1% of Bob Gibson's outside income derives from national endorsements. Heavyweight Champion Joe Frazier has never endorsed a product. Hopefully, his first commercial will not come 25 years from now, standing before a television camera saying, "Madison Avenue, where were you when I needed you?"
But there has been some change in this area. O. J. Simpson's $250,000 contract with Chevrolet is one of the largest athletic endorsement deals ever, and whenever groups of athletes are used in ads there is sure to be at least one Negro. Jantzen, for instance, integrated its celebrity sports panel with Timmy Brown. Matt Snell is one of four Jets singing for Score hair dressing. Desenex foot powder, which first employed Jimmy Brown, has used Oscar Robertson with Jerry Lucas and Elgin Baylor with Jerry West. Ideal Toy used Stan Mikita, Pete Rose, Gale Sayers and Cazzie Russell in a group bit.
The Chicago Cubs worked out a unique arrangement among themselves this year with a promoter who prefers to identify himself as a "merchandising agent." The Cubs agreed to share equally all endorsement moneys, even if only one player was used. This concept was supposed to promote team solidarity, and it may have at first, but the socialistic Cubs grew so money conscious that it seemed only a matter of time before they would bill Mayor Daley for plugging CHICAGO across their road uniforms.
That endorsement money is distributed to a greater cross section of players today is accounted for in large measure by the new breed of players' agents or representatives. These men essentially serve a liaison function as they try to match the right athlete with a commercial campaign an agency or corporation has in mind. They also have driven the players' asking prices up. In 1964, when Steve Arnold was acting as a lawyer for an ad agency, he went to negotiate with a top quarterback for a commercial. He hoped to get the famous signal-caller for something slightly under the several thousand dollars that had been budgeted for his services for a couple of hours work. Arnold asked the cagey check-off artist what he considered fair. "Does $100 an hour seem too much?" the dummy asked. When Arnold returned to New York he told the story to another young lawyer, Marty Blackman, and they formed Pro Sports, Inc.
Attorney Bob Woolf steered Ken Harrelson to a financial bonanza last year. Chuck Barnes, O. J. Simpson's man, began by lifting racing drivers out of the grease pits. It is estimated that golfers still average higher endorsement fees than stars in any other sport, and this is almost entirely due to Mark McCormack, who pioneered the modern athlete-business concept with Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.
The boom has brought quick-buck artists onto the scene, too. "A lot of them are just giving everybody a fast pitch," Lois says. "If he is really representing an athlete, an agent should be thinking how he can get this guy into something respected, even meaningful, and not just get him to shill for everything that comes along. Bill Bradley has so far refused to make any endorsements, and I believe he is more right than he is wrong."
In any event, even a star white New York ballplayer with a hotshot agent is not guaranteed huge endorsement success. Only a handful can ever make it big over any extended period of time, because so few athletes have a high recognition factor—"good numbers"—among the whole consumer population. "You sit around with your sport-fan friends," Lois says, "and you think everybody in America must be familiar with the stars. But who have you got now that everybody, really everybody, recognizes? I mean using the criterion of walking down the street and having everyone know exactly who you are. Mantle, Namath, Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Wilt Chamberlain—and with Wilt it is mostly because he is so tall.