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Sports Marketing

High-profile coaches double as advertisers

Scott Dochterman

The Gazette

January 24, 2007

[Note: This material is copyright by The Gazette, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of The Gazette.]

  IOWA CITY — Popular people promote popular products. After all, nobody drank Diet Pepsi before Britney Spears showed off her, umm, products during the Patriots- Rams Super Bowl in early 2002, right? Diet Coke wasn’t the right one until Ray Charles told everyone in song, uh huh?

  OK, so the national market differs from Eastern Iowa in many ways, but not in one key area: a celebrity can promote a product better than just about anyone.

  Iowa’s head coaches and athletes are perhaps the area’s most high-profile faces. But student-athletes aren’t allowed to endorse products, leaving coaches as the primary attraction for businesses and charitable organizations. Steve Ridge, corporate executive vice president for Frank N. Magid Associates Inc., a Marion-based national marketing company, said a spokesperson’s credibility is a business’ top requirement. Ridge’s company has handled endorsement testing of national sports figures for different businesses, and he said a spokesperson’s brand must fit with the endorsed product, regardless of market.

  ‘‘I think it’s still a function of how credible they are pitching a product,’’ Ridge said. ‘‘ In a pro market, there’s hundreds of celebrity people to pick. In Minneapolis you can go down the list through multiple sports and you’ve got both players and coaches who can do celebrity endorsements.

  ‘‘In a setting like ours, you’re automatically limited, given the fact of sure numbers. You’re down to a handful of people that can do those endorsements. Even given the fact there may be statistically better odds for a person to be selected as a spokesperson, that doesn’t mean they are going to be more effective.’’ The rules are clear at the University of Iowa. Any coach who wants to endorse a business or accept a speaking engagement needs approval from the athletics director.

  The NCAA mandates that athletics departments report all outside income, including coaching endorsements.

  ‘‘We want to make sure the department is being well represented,’’ said Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta, who took over Aug. 1. ‘‘Since my arrival there really hasn’t been any new opportunities brought to my office. Our coaches have done a great job of knowing the stance the university has.’’

  Iowa State operates under a similar policy. Steve Malchow, Iowa State’s senior associate athletics director for communications, calls Iowa State’s approval process for endorsements ‘‘ checks and balances.’’

  One primary check, Malchow said, is to ensure endorsements don’t contradict official school products, such as soft drinks. Iowa women’s basketball coach Lisa Bluder negotiated endorsement deals with Iowa State Bank & Trust Company and Dynamite Satellite with the blessing of Bob Bowlsby, Barta’s predecessor. She had a third with Baden Basketballs, but dropped it when Iowa affiliated with Nike in 2004.

  Bluder said most of her endorsement opportunities come from speaking engagements for non-profit organizations. She said she has faced no resistance from the university to endorse non-profit organizations.

  ‘‘I think you have to evaluate every one when you are approached, if that meshes with what you want to do personally,’’ Bluder said. ‘‘I don’t think you automatically say yes to an endorsement because I think you can be over-endorsed, too. You can endorse too many things and that loses its value as well."