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Common Themes of the Best Athlete Endorsed Brand Campaigns

Celebrity and athlete endorsements are without question some of the most useful marketing tools that a brand can use.  The way fans idolize their favorite athletes allows brands to capture those positive feelings by using those athletes to endorse their products.  With many products that use athlete endorsers, the suggestion that the average person can jump higher or run faster by using a particular product makes the endorsement all the more powerful.

While there are literally hundreds if not thousands of brands that have partnered with athletes over the years, there are several products and campaigns that have stuck with us through the years.  These particular brands managed to use their athlete endorsers to not only help sell products at that moment in time, but to
also create a lasting image that garnered positive feelings for that brand long after that commercial or campaign had been shelved.

Today, we’re going to take a look at a handful of those campaigns, and what common themes they utilized to make their ad campaigns iconic, much like their spokesmen.

MEAN JOE GREEN DRINKS COKE

This commercial debuted during the 1980 Super Bowl, and ever since then, it has ended up near the top of every list of the best Super Bowl commercials ever.  Besides using an iconic pitchman like Mean Joe Green, the real key here is the juxtaposition of the tough football player and the young generous boy.  The message here is pretty strong – the implication is that drinking a Coke can improve anyone’s mood – as Mean Joe becomes a nice guy after drinking the Coke.  While the jingle itself isn’t that catchy, the end catchphrase of “Have a Coke and a Smile” works because it’s easy to remember, and fits into everyday conversations.  But what really sells this commercial is the young boy’s reaction when Mean Joe goes from hard-ass football player to a giving soul.  His face lights up, and we get the secondary catchphrase, “Thanks Mean Joe!”  That’s the lasting image from this commercial – and over 30 years later it still gets replayed every February when everyone is talking about Super Bowl commercials.  For that, this campaign ranks among the best ever.


TIGER WOODS GOLF – NIKE

At the end of the millennium, no question existed as to who was the best golfer in the world–Tiger Woods. He was in the process of obliterating the course record at the Masters and was already anointed as the one who would pass Jack Nicklaus, even though he had only won a few majors at that point.  Nike had launched its entire golf product line by partnering with Woods, and instantly gained credibility in the market. And while that probably would have happened regardless of their ad campaign, one commercial served as the catalyst for Nike Golf, and Tiger Woods.

Unlike the other campaigns on this list, there was no catchy jingle, no catchphrase, nor any additional celebrities.  Instead, it consisted of Tiger Woods bouncing a ball on his golf club without it hitting the ground, using the club to toss the ball into the air, and then taking a half golf swing and crushing the ball into the distance.  The message was what we already knew; that there were things Tiger Woods could do on a golf course that nobody else was capable of.  The key was that you had to see it to believe it, so people made a point to see it.

The other advantage this campaign had over others was that it happened in the internet era.  While YouTube wasn’t in place, this ad and campaign still spread like wildfire.  And it’s still a popular view today, with almost 1.8 million hits on YouTube.  It’s so popular that the bloopers from that commercial shoot have over 1.1 million views.  It’s easily the most popular golf ad ever and certainly ranks in the Top 5 of most powerful sports endorsement campaigns ever too.

ITS GOTTA BE THE SHOES – NIKE AIR JORDAN

While some of the other campaigns Michael Jordan has been involved with may have been more memorable, he’s still best known as the original, and really the only, spokesman for Nike’s Air Jordan Brand.  Starting in the mid-80’s, Jordan was synonymous with basketball, dunking, and Nike. While there were many great commercials involving Jordan, the signature campaign included Jordan and a loud, scrawny character named Mars Blackmon, played by rising director and actor Spike Lee.

While Jordan dribbled, shot and dunked, Mars asked Jordan what made him the best basketball player in the world.  Jordan never gave a definitive answer, while Mars continually asked what became a rhetorical non-question: “It’s gotta be the shoes?!” And even if nobody really believed that Nike’s shoes made Jordan as good as he was, kids playing basketball across America eagerly pointed to their shoes after a made shot or dunk and repeated the phrase.

In the end, the name Mars Blackmon may have been more popular than the phrase itself, as the new Nike ads with Spike became highly anticipated events themselves.   But the combination of Jordan, the phrase and Mars Blackmon is something that every male teen and pre-teen of that era remembers.


BE LIKE MIKE – GATORADE

By 1992, there was no bigger star in sports than Michael Jordan.  He was far and away the best player in all of basketball.  He had already won his 1st NBA Championship, was well on his way to his 2nd and he was about to lead the Dream Team to a Gold Medal in the 1992 Olympics.  Anything he endorsed on or off the basketball court was going to turn to gold too.  But Gatorade managed to take the icon to another level with its Be Like Mike ad campaign.  The visuals of the commercial itself aren’t anything spectacular – just Jordan doing what Jordan does.  But the message couldn’t have been any clearer – if you drink Gatorade, you will BE LIKE MIKE.

The catchphrase itself was enough to create a national word of mouth campaign, but what made this campaign one of the best ever was the jingle written by Bernie Pitzel and composed by Ira Antelis and Steve Shafer.  As a 13 year old, I memorized the lyrics, which I still know today. I even bought a CD with the song on it. If iTunes had been around back then, it easily would have moved a million units.  The jingle was that popular then, and for those individuals who came of age in the early 90’s, it’s still synonymous with Gatorade.

Sometimes I dream

That he is me

You’ve got to see that’s how I dream to be

I dream I move, I dream I groove

Like Mike

If I could Be Like Mike

Again I try

Just need to fly

For just one day if I could

Be that way

I dream I move

I dream I groove

Like Mike

If I could Be Like Mike

*For the full story on how the Be Like Mike campaign came into existence, check out Darren Rovell’s First in Thirst: How Gatorade Turned the Science of Sweat Into a Cultural Phenomenon.

BO KNOWS – NIKE

Much like the Be Like Mike campaign, Nike’s Bo Knows campaign originated in the early 90’s. It centered around the greatest athlete of his time, Bo Jackson – the superhuman running back and baseball player for the Los Angeles Raiders and Kansas City Royals.  While there were several different commercials associated with the Bo Knows campaign, the most memorable one was probably the Bo Diddley version, which in fact featured Blues legend Bo Diddley.

The concept was creative yet relatively simple – Bo Jackson is a great football player and baseball player, but what else does he “know”? Utilizing athletes and legends from every other major sport, including the likes of Wayne Gretzky and John McEnroe, Nike used celebrities and the catchphrase “Bo Knows” to create a memorable ad campaign.  Certainly the presence of other athletes gave
the campaign credibility, but the often repeated phrase of “Bo Knows” is what
sets this ad apart.  The icing on the cake was Bo Diddley telling Bo Jackson, “Bo, you don’t know Diddley!”—a phrase that made its way into the American lexicon for several years.  It even served as the title of Bo’s autobiography
“Bo Knows Bo”.

Subsequent versions of this campaign featured a similar theme of Bo Jackson, the super athlete, competing in every sport, and even a cameo from Sonny Bono poking fun at the Bo Knows campaign.

In the end, Bo’s injuries and shortened career took him out of the spotlight sooner than expected. But if you mention his name to anyone of the age range 25-40, they will ineveitably make some mention of Bo Knows.

So as a brand looks to partner with an athlete for a national campaign, what kind of lessons can they learn from the Cokes, Gatorades and Nikes of the world?

The first lesson is to secure A+ talent.  With the possible exception of Mean Joe Green, the other athletes used were the absolute best at what they did at the time.  If you’re trying to convince people to use your product, you have to be able to convince them that the best athletes in the world use your products.  And if you have the budget to bring in other celebs or athletes, do it.  They don’t have to be the principal endorser, but they’ll help provide that extra oomph.

The second lesson is to find a catchphrase that resonates outside of the commercial.  Be Like Mike and Bo Knows caught on not because of the 30 second spot, but because of the two and three word phrases that kids and adults repeated over and over again.  Use the athlete’s name, keep it short, and make it repeatable.

The third lesson is to think bigger than the 30 second spot.  3 of the 5 campaigns on this list weren’t one-off advertisements, but rather a series of ads based around the same theme.  Mars Blackmon was a running theme for Nike Air that spanned several years.  Bo Knows included several ads that all focused on the Bo Knows themes, but were different variations in their own right. Be Like Mike not only served as a jingle for the Gatorade commercial, but it became its own revenue stream when the company began selling the single.

Finally, be original.  For instance, (i) the reason the Be Like Mike ad succeeded was because nobody saw it coming from Gatorade; (ii) an acclaimed director/actor playing a central role in a basketball shoe commercial had never been done before Nike did it; (iii) Tiger Woods bouncing a golf ball on his golf club was an unconventional way to show his skill; (iv) Mean Joe Green was one of the first athletes used in a Super Bowl commercial like that; and (v) Bo Knows was one of the first commercials to use several other athletes and celebrities to sell a product primarily marketed by another athlete.

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Friday Morning Workout

Friday Morning Workout

Welcome to your Friday Morning Workout, THIRDandFOUR’s new weekly post for those of you who missed the week’s news concerning sports law, sports business, sports media, or sports public relations.  Dig in and make sure you break a sweat!

Selig fully supports David Einhorn’s purchase of one-third of the Mets from principal owners Fred Wilpon and family, notwithstanding the $1-billion plus lawsuit that has been brought against the Wilpons by Trustee Irving Pickard on behalf of victims of Bernard Madoff’s ponzi scheme.  The Court recently granted the Wilpons’ motion to move the case from the bankruptcy court to a federal district court, where Judge Rakoff likely will limit the plaintiffs’ recovery based on a theory that the Wilpons’ failure to investigate Madoff’s investments did not constitute “willful blindness” or culpable intent.  Read more.

Erin Andrews opens up about her stalker.  Read more.

The assistant to Canadian sports doctor Anthony Galea claims that though the doctor treated Tiger Woods after his 2009 knee surgery, he did not inject Woods with any illegal substances.  Read more.

Shaquille O’Neal decides to join TNT’s NBA Coverage. Read more.

Former Cowboy’s wide receiver and sports commentator Michael Irvin appears shirtless on the cover of the gay men’s magazine Out, where he explains that his passion for marriage equality is a direct result of his relationship with his gay brother who died from cancer in 2006.  Read more.

ESPN Now Making Candy Bars too?  Read more.

The NFL and the NFL Players Association project that they will ratify a new CBA by July 21, 2011 in order to save the entire NFL pre-season.   The most complex issues yet to be resolved through negotiations are veteran free agency and the rookie wage system. Read more.

See how sports figures use Twitter. Read more.

The NFL salary cap will undoubtedly be lower than before once a CBA is adopted.  With a hypothetical $120 million cap, the following six teams already exceed it: (1) the Dallas Cowboys; (2) the Oakland Raiders; (3) the New York Giants; (4) the Pittsburg Steelers; (5) the Minnesota Vikings; and (6) the Indianapolis Colts. Read more.

CNBC’s SportsBiz expert Darren Rovell provides 100 rules for using Twitter. Read more.

Pursuant to the 1999 NBA collective bargaining agreement, the NBA withholds 8% of player salaries and places it into escrow each season to ensure that these salaries do not exceed 57% of league revenues.  Unlike every other season, the NBA will soon return this year’s money to the players due to increased revenue throughout the 2010-11 season—a welcome surprise for certain players and fuel to the players’ argument that the League does not need to overhaul the current financial system.  Read more.

Julie Roe Lach, the NCAA’s Vice President of Enforcement, has made it clear that the NCAA is not done investigating Auburn with respect to its dealings with Cam Newton.  Read more.

ESPN initiates suit against Ohio State University, accusing the school of violating the state’s public records law by denying requests for information concerning the NCAA’s investigation of Tressel and Pryor.  Read more.

Despite Prince Fielder’s displayed adoration for his sons during the MLB All-Star festivities this week (a true image booster), he has no intentions of rebuilding the torn relationship between him and his father, former all-star first baseman Cecil Fielder.  Read more.

Sports Illustrated’s List of 100 people in Sports To Follow on Twitter.  Read more.

Adam Pacman Jones may have, for once, been profiled and improperly targeted leading up to his July 10th arrest.  Read more.

The NCAA nabs its next victim: Georgia Tech over a mere $312. Read more.

Weekly Correction – James Harrison

One of the best things about covering sports media, image, law, and pr is that you never have to search too far for a story.  And some days, you get an athlete who gives you a mushball straight down the middle of the plate.  This week’s “Weekly Correction” goes to Steeler’s Linebacker James Harrison who decided to take on Commissioner Roger Goodell, his teammates, his opponents, and several broadcasters in an interview in this month’s Men’s Journal.

He then topped off his offensive and over the line quotes by posing for the picture you see above.

For those of you not familiar with James Harrison, this isn’t the first time he and Roger Goodell have butted heads.  In fact, this outburst is just another step in an ongoing feud.  Harrison came under fire from the Commish in 2010 for several late and violent hits – and was fined a total of $120,000, for which Harrison publicly questioned why he was being singled out.

In this latest interview, Harrison took things a step further by calling Goodell a “crook” and a “puppet” and stating that if “he (Goodell) was on fire and I had to piss him out, I wouldn’t do it”.  Harrison went on to call Goodell “stupid”, a “dictator” and even threw in an anti-gay slur for good measure.

But James was just getting started.  After going after Goodell, he trashed his own quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, claiming that even though he gets paid like Peyton Manning, he isn’t as good.  And that the defense had to bail him out in last year’s Super Bowl for his interceptions.

Since taking on the Commissioner and his own team wasn’t enough, Harrison then went after Steelers rival the New England Patriots, accusing them of using stolen signals to beat the Steelers in the 2004 playoffs.  (There is evidence that the Patriots were taping practices of some teams during that season and were using it to their advantage).

He singled out Texans LB Brian Cushing for being “juiced” and called out broadcasters Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison (both former Patriots) for being “clowns”.

I guess James didn’t have time to call out the fans or the owners of the Steelers, because they are pretty much the only people left to criticize who are associated with the NFL.

Now Harrison has always been known as a bit of a hothead, but this is on a whole different level.  This wasn’t a spur of the moment postgame quote or two.  This was a pre-meditated attack on his team, the commissioner, and the league in general.  There really is no excuse for it, and unless Harrison can prove he was misquoted (highly unlikely), it’s going to be nearly impossible for him to walk himself out of this.

An apology might help, but it likely won’t accomplish much since this was pre-meditated in a sit down interview.   Although personal apologies and explanations to any teammates he offended are probably in order.  And likewise, since the author of the article probably used a tape recorder, Harrison will face an uphill battle claiming that this was merely a misquote – especially when so much of the interview was negative in nature.  It’s pretty clear that Harrison said these things.

The only thing Harrison can do now is lay low and hope that the lockout ends this week, which will remove his name from the headlines.  With news organizations starving for stories due to the NFL and NBA lockouts, this is sure to get plenty of coverage.

And for those athletes wondering what James Harrison should have done differently, I think it’s pretty obvious – don’t say stupid things, especially when you know you’re on the record.

But…if you’re going to insist on ripping the Commissioner, who has already shown he loves to take large portions of your paycheck, then may I suggest that you don’t also rip the guys who would usually defend you in these situations, your teammates.  Don’t look for Ben Roethlisberger or Rashard Mendenhall to lobby on your behalf anytime soon.

But…if you insist on taking on the Commish and your teammates, you probably should avoid angering and disrespecting your opponents.  Given that you may have angered enough teammates to earn yourself a one way ticket out of Pittsburgh, you never know when “cheating opponents” may soon become new teammates.

But…if you insist on laying into the Commish, your teammates, and your opponents, it’s probably not a good idea to rip the broadcasters.  When the Commish, your teammates, and opponents are all placing your picture on a dartboard, you may not find another team to play on and may be looking to join the broadcast booth sooner than you think.  Something tells me the “clowns” you mentioned won’t be eager to give you a glowing recommendation to executives at their respective networks.

But…if you insist on burning bridges with the team, the opponents and the networks, you might want to avoid posing for a picture shirtless holding two handguns.  Especially given that NFL Receiver Plaxico Burress just left jail for a gun related incident, and NBA Guard Gilbert Arenas was suspended for the majority of the season for possession of handguns.  It’s pretty clear where the league stands on guns, James, and it is not exactly enthusiastically supportive.

I’m not sure there is a way for Harrison to spin this into anything positive.   The only remedy is to keep his mouth shut and hope it goes away.

Weekly Correction: Terrelle’s Apology—A Special Shout Out to Tressel

Terrelle sends a "special shoutout" to Jim Tressel

THIRDandFOUR would like to introduce the Sports World to our new baby Weekly Correction.  Consistent with our theme concerning critical decisions, image cultivation and the professional athlete, THIRDandFOUR now provides a weekly note that highlights an athlete who would have benefited by consulting our website prior to painfully stumbling before either the media, a professional team or college program, a professional league, an officiating crew, and/or similar individuals and entities.

For our inaugural Weekly Correction, I highlight Terrelle Pryor, the newly announced former football star for the Ohio State University.  For those of you who are not familiar with Terrelle (sometimes confused with Terrell—as in Owens—even by his newly hired agent Drew Rosenhaus), he led the Buckeye Nation as their quarterback for the last three years.  During this time period, he amassed quite the statistical “trifecta,” while improving upon his overall game and becoming a more balanced quarterback each year.[1]

As evidence of Pryor’s gifts as a football player, he is OSU’s all-time leading rusher among quarterbacks, and his career total of 57 touchdown passes ties a school record.  Further, last year, he ranked among the top ten of NCAA quarterbacks with respect to passing efficiency.  Tellingly, those who ranked ahead of him include Cam Newton of Auburn (the no. 1 pick of the 2011 NFL draft), Kellen Moore of Boise State (who is considered by many to be the no. 1 college football player entering the 2011 season), Andrew Luck of Stanford (who is easily the second ranked college football player entering the 2011 season), Andy Dalton of TCU (the no. 35 pick of the 2011 NFL draft), and Ryan Mallett of Arkansas (the no. 74 pick of the 2011 NFL draft).  Those that ranked below him certainly didn’t ride the pine in 2010.  These quarterbacks include Jake Locker of Washington (drafted no.  8 to the Titans), Blaine Gabbert of Missouri (drafted no. 10 to the Jags), and Christian Ponder of Florida State (drafted no. 12 to the Vikings).

Just prior to the 2011 college football bowl season, however, news reports surfaced that Pryor, along with several of his teammates, had accepted improper benefits, including cash and tattoos, in exchange for OSU paraphernalia that they had obtained for free from the University.  However, instead of preventing these players from playing in the upcoming Allstate Sugar Bowl, the NCAA suspended each player for the first five games of the 2011-12 season.[2]  Subsequently, the Buckeyes went on to beat Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl, 31-26, and over the next four months, Pryor consistently expressed his intentions of coming back to OSU for his senior season, notwithstanding the suspension awaiting him.

However, by May 30, 2011, reports concerning the severity of OSU’s infractions had grown worse than anyone could ever imagine.  Buckeye Coach Jim Tressel had acknowledged that he knew as early as April 2010 that his players had violated NCAA compliance rules, yet he didn’t disclose this information to the school and the NCAA—a clear breach of his coaching obligation and the NCAA compliance rules.  These facts along with mounting pressure from the University’s Administration ultimately compelled Tressel to resign on this date.  Soon thereafter, on June 7, 2011, Terrelle Pryor announced that he also was withdrawing from OSU.

As speculation concerning Pryor’s future increased following his June 7 announcement, Pryor hired Drew Rosenhaus—an NFL agent who is infamous for his brazen aggressiveness—and together, they conceivably planned the absolute farce that occurred on June 14, 2007.  Reminiscent of the scene from Sunset Boulevard when Norma Desmond pronounces, “all right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up,” Pryor’s and Rosenhaus’ press conference on June 14 did absolutely nothing to bolster or buoy Pryor’s image—or as most NFL teams refer to it, strengthen his character.

In a red polo, oddly resembling the color previously worn by Terrelle on football Saturdays, Pryor sat before the media and exclaimed:

“I say sorry to all the Buckeye nation and all the Buckeye fans across the country…  I never meant to hurt anybody directly or indirectly with my conduct off the field and I am truly sorry.” 

As for his feelings towards his former coach and mentor Jim Tressel, Pryor opined:

“In terms of coach Jim Tressel, a special shoutout.  I’m sorry for what all went down and I apologize with all my heart.  I love you just like a father.  You taught me a lot and I apologize for putting you in a situation and taking you out of a job and place that you loved.”

And after 97 seconds of Terrelle pouring his “heart” out on the table, he was done.  Rosenhaus stepped in and wrapped up the press conference with a six-minute marketing presentation to the NFL.  As if he was selling a ketchup packet to a lady wearing white gloves, he boasted:

“[Terrelle] is very sad about what has happened to his college career and Ohio State…  I can tell you that he is extremely, he is responsible for the mistakes that he has made.  He has owned up to that.  There are no excuses here, guys.  No excuses at all.  But the past is now the past for him and we have to move ahead.  There is no point in him looking back.”

Rosenhaus further projected that Pryor will be a first-round pick in the supplemental NFL draft this summer, emphasizing that “Terrelle Pryor will be a great—not a good quarterback—a great quarterback in the National Football League…  He is going to be a star.  This experience that he has gone through will galvanize him and make him a better person, a stronger person.”

Finally, in true Rosenhaus fashion, he ended the press conference without fielding a single question from the media: “I think I’ve said it all…  So I’d like to thank everybody for coming.  Guys, we’re going to shut it down right now and I appreciate your time.  Thank you.”

THE DECISION

I genuinely respected Pryor’s initial decision to remain at Ohio State for his senior season.  Every potential NFL quarterback (aka the “field general”) could use a few extra snaps before entering the pros.  In college, there’s no comparison to the fast-paced nature of the NFL game.  Further, despite his accolades and stats as a quarterback, Pryor was a future NFL wide receiver in the eyes of many sports commentators.  Moreover, notwithstanding his physical capabilities, Terrelle had also just displayed to the nation through his repeated violations of the NCAA compliance rules that he had not fully matured into a responsible adult and professional.

That being said, I can also understand Pryor’s rationale for finally deciding to leave OSU after (i) putting up great stats in the former season; (ii) losing his head coach and mentor; and (iii) learning that he would participate in, at most, 7-8 games during the 2011-12 season following his five game suspension.  Thus, I am in full support of Pryor “taking his talents to the NFL” (Sorry, I couldn’t resist).

THE APOLOGY

My absolute disgust with Terrelle Pryor arises from his and Drew Rosenhaus’ version of a nationally televised “apology.”  Now, correct me if I’m wrong.  Maybe Pryor and Rosenhaus never intended for their June 14 press conference to constitute an apology to the Ohio State University and its fans.  I’m actually going to go out on a limb and assume that at least Rosenhaus primarily intended for it to be a tool to market Pryor to potential NFL employers.

Nonetheless, everything about that press conference irked the hell out of me from a total objective point of view.  As if I was their mother, I naturally wanted to grab Rosenhaus and Pryor by their left ears and scold them while pronouncing their full names.  I’ve finally come to the realization that I felt this intense emotion because the Ohio State University and their fans DO deserve a sincere apology from their quarterback as a result of his transgressions.  As the team’s former leader, he should apologize for pouring the program’s future scholarships and post-season play directly down the drain.  Moreover, I’m willing to bet my entire savings—yes, my entire savings—that the NFL teams that were fixated on the television when Pryor conducted his press conference were also hoping and expecting that Pryor would provide a sincere apology to the University and its fans.  From their perspective, an apology represents, among other things, that Pryor has matured from his prior mistakes and now has the strong character most NFL teams look for in a franchise quarterback.

THE CORRECTION

In the future, should you find yourself in Terrelle Pryor’s shoes, here’s a bit of advice concerning press conferences in which you intend to or at least should apologize for your transgressions.  First, wear a suit, guys!  It’s really not that hard to throw on a suit and a tie as if you’re interviewing for a job.   In essence, Terrelle Pryor interviewed with each of the 32 NFL teams on June 14.  Second, prepare, prepare, prepare.  Here, both Pryor and Rosenhaus sounded like bumbling idiots.  If you don’t believe me, just re-read the above transcript and count the number of confusing statements made by both parties.  I lose count each time!  Coming from a litigator, it actually doesn’t appear unprofessional when you use note cards.  Third, apologize to those who are deserving of the apology.  On June 14, Terrelle Pryor primarily apologized to—sorry, gave a “special shoutout” to—his conspirator.  Remember, Tressel is ultimately just as guilty as Pryor in the eyes of the NCAA.  Fourth, hold the apologetic press conferences separate from the press conferences marketing your skills.  Similar to what occurred here, you risk overshadowing the intended apology with a marketing presentation.  Finally, don’t permit your newly hired, highly conflicted, and overly aggressive agent to run the show.  This was Terrelle Pryor’s debut to the World as a professional.  Contrary to what transpired, he should have spoken for 80 percent of the press conference, not his agent.

– NRH


[1] In 2008, as a freshman, Pryor split time with senior Todd Boeckman before taking over the fulltime starting role as quarterback by midseason.

[2] I imagine that all kinds of questions are running through your head regarding the timing of the punishment received by the OSU players.  However, stay tuned next week for my lambasting of the NCAA for its inconsistent enforcement of the compliance rules, particularly in instances that are financially beneficial to the Association.

Don’t Be A Weiner, Learn To Use Your Twitter

It’s no secret that social media, and in particular Twitter, are a great way for athletes and celebrities to connect with fans, promote their work, and be a voice for brands looking for exposure. Under the right circumstances, Twitter can a powerful tool that athletes can use to build their media brand and create an audience. But what’s becoming increasingly apparent is that Twitter is also a dangerous weapon that keeps agents, managers, team presidents and publicists up at night.

One needs to look no further than Rashard Mendenhall, Gilbert Arenas, and of course most recently, Congressman Anthony Weiner, to see how under the wrong circumstances, Twitter can go from asset to disaster. In Rashard Mendhall’s case, some poorly timed and worded tweets on a hot button issue cost him an endorsement deal with Champion. Gilbert Arenas’ decision to live tweet about a bad date he was on will probably end up with a check being written to the NBA league office. And Anthony Weiner, though not an athlete, is the perfect example of what can happen if you don’t probably understand the permanence of what you put into cyberspace. As more and more celebrities, personalities and athletes look to Twitter to build their brand and reach fans, it’s inevitable that we will see more scandals. It’s important that they know how to properly use the medium to their advantage, and what to avoid so they can stay out of Twitter jail.

Here are just a few DOs and DON’Ts that every athlete should consider the next time they choose to express themselves in 140 characters or less.

1. Do engage with your followers. Don’t get dragged into wars of words.

Engaging with fans is the #1 reason why every athlete should be on Twitter. The ability to easily connect with fans is a great way to create an off the field, ice or court persona and to let your fans know what really interests you outside of your sport. Tweeting back and forth with fans is a great way to let them know what you’re up to, and learn more about how they feel about you and your team. However, it is very important to remember that not all people will have nice things to say. The ability to be anonymous means many “fans” will use Twitter as a chance to say some awful things about you. The only thing you can do is IGNORE IT! Getting into a battle of words over Twitter is a path you never want to take. You’ll never win, and you only risk hurting your own image. In short, respond to the positive and ignore the negative.

2. Do share your outside interests. Don’t talk about politics, religion or other sensitive topics

As Rashard Mendenhall recently demonstrated, one or two mis-tweets on hot-button subjects can have very real ramifications. A few poorly worded tweets about Osama Bin Laden’s death ended up costing Rashard an endorsement deal.  Therefore, its important to stay away from potentially controversial topics like politics and religion. There is no upside in making your feelings known on these subjects, and the only possible result is that you alienate fans or sponsors. Even if your intentions are pure, it’s tough to properly express yourself in 140 characters, and things often get misunderstood. Instead, use Twitter as an opportunity to let your fans know about what interests you outside of your sport or field.

3. Do engage with your fellow athletes and friends. Don’t use Twitter for your personal conversations

One of the great things about Twitter is watching athletes and celebrities engage with each other. The tweets back and forth are often humorous and entertaining, and often give us a glimpse into your personal life. But it’s important to make sure the conversation doesn’t become too personal. Cracking jokes about what happened in the locker room is great. Revealing personal information about whereabouts or plans is not a good idea. And just like in real life, sometimes a joke or trash talk can go too far – be careful not to cross that line on Twitter too.

4. Do get involved in contests and giveaways. Don’t fail to deliver on the promises you make

I love to see an athlete engage fans by participating in a giveaway on Twitter. It’s a great way to show fans that you care and it helps build a following. But if you’re going to give something a way (a jersey, picture, tickets, etc.) make sure you can deliver on your promise! All the goodwill you created by creating a contest or giveaway can be washed away in an instant if you fail to live up to your promises. And if you’re giving away an experience that involves coordinating with a location or other people (restaurants, your team, movie theaters, etc.), make sure to clear everything with them first!

5. Do use Twitter as a way to develop relationships with people in other industries you want to know. Don’t continue to build the relationship publicly on Twitter

Just like fans use Twitter to connect with their favorite athletes, Twitter can be a way for you to connect with people in other industries that you want to know. If you’re looking to branch out into music, television, marketing, finances, real estate etc., Twitter is a great way to meet people in these fields. But remember, Twitter is a public forum, so whatever you say can be read by millions of people.  And once you’ve established contact, take the conversation offline.  It’s nobody else’s business what you’re doing to build business opportunities outside of your own industry. 

6. Do use pictures and videos as a way to build your following. Don’t Tweet anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable showing your parents or children

Hearing what an athlete has to say on Twitter is great, experiencing it through video or pictures is even better. Uploading videos and pictures are a great way to expand your Twitter following, and your fans will love to see what you’re up to at that moment. But always remember that once you’ve tweeted something, you can’t get it back. A picture of you at a strip club, or a video of you drunk will live on the internet forever, so think twice before you send something into the Twitterverse. And if you need a reminder, just Google Anthony Weiner and see what happens when a Twitpic goes wrong.

7. Do Tweet about products and services you enjoy using. Don’t trash those products or services you don’t like

Even if you’re not at the point where you are getting paid to endorse for companies on Twitter, it doesn’t mean you can’t tweet about or at products you like. It’s a great way to get on their radar for future endorsement opportunities. If they have a smart pr/marketing team running their Twitter account, they’ll take notice of who you are and hopefully try to work out a deal for some publicity. At the very least, you may get some free products! However, be very careful when trashing products you don’t like. Many of these companies sponsor teams, radio stations, and television networks. One critical tweet can sour a relationship, and you never know when you may need that brand in your corner.

8. Do link to articles, tweets and pictures you like. Don’t fill your timeline with junk

The reason people follow you on Twitter is because they want to know what you’re interested in. If you see an article you enjoyed, a video you liked, or a tweet you found funny, you should share it with your followers.  However, nobody wants to follow someone who fills their timeline with tweets, articles, and pictures all the time. It’s better to choose which things are most interesting to you and include those in your tweets. You’ll also find that more people pay attention to what you have to say and share when you’re selective with your links and thoughts.

9.  Do follow others. Don’t follow too many 

The Twitter experience for an athlete or a celebrity is different from that of most users since most public personalities only use Twitter to build their own audience.  But Twitter is a great way to educate yourself on a variety of topics, and stay up to date on breaking news.  The only way you can do that is to follow those whose opinions and ideas are important to you.  Like any Twitter user, if you choose to follow too many people, or the wrong people, your timeline will be tough to manage and you won’t be able to focus on the information that is important to you.   Instead, find make it a point to see who other people you respect are following, and do the same.  Chances are you’ll learn something.

10.  Do use Twitter as a creative outlet to express yourself.  DO remember it is permanent

The most important thing to remember when using Twitter is that it is permanent.  So permanent that the Library of Congress actually catalogs every tweet.  So whether you’re interacting with fans, uploading a video or picture, or talking about your favorite restaurant, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, remember that once you hit send, you can’t take it back.  Even though a quick deletion may result in the removal of the tweet from your news feed, if its controversial, you can bet that one of your followers will have already made a screen grab of the tweet and forwarded it to a well read blog.  It happens every time.  So make sure you’re not offending anyone, not attaching the wrong video or picture, and are properly replying, retweeting, or using a direct message (if appropriate).  If you don’t make sure, you can be certain that the internet will let you know very quickly.

Why We Still Hate Lebron

It’s been almost 11 months since Lebron James made his ill-fated “decision” on national television where he broke the hearts of Cleveland, disgusted most die-hard NBA fans, and forever put an asterisk on his legacy.  While many, including Lebron apparently, thought those sentiments would just blow over eventually, clearly they have not.  With his team just two wins away from the NBA title one might expect that much of the anger and hatred towards the King would have subsided.  But if Twitter posts, Q ratings, and sports talk radio are the barometers, there’s just as much hatred for Lebron as there was last July, perhaps even more.  That’s unusual for an athlete who is the best in his sport who is playing an integral role in his teams’ path to the championship.  So what is he doing wrong?  And can he fix it?

THE DECISION

Without question, the taste of The Decision still does not sit well with most fans outside of South Florida.  Although the self aggrandizing hour long charade on ESPN and the spurning of Cleveland garnered much of the headlines, it wouldn’t have all been so objectionable had we really believed that there was a “Decision” to be made.  Brett Favre has had more press conferences than the President and contrary to popular belief, Lebron wasn’t the first guy to leave a team for a chance to win a title – Shaq did the same thing when he left Orlando for LA. What still stings is the fact that we as fans were duped into thinking that Lebron actually considered the Bulls, the Knicks or staying in Cleveland.  As more reports came out that it was clear Lebron, Wade and Bosh put this in motion almost two years prior, we as fans felt ridiculous for spending so much time and energy on the Lebron sweepstakes.  It’s one thing to pull a fast one on other owners, but heaven help the athlete or celebrity who purposely misleads the public.

Worse, while Lebron has admitted that The Decision was a mistake, he still hasn’t made a full mea culpa.  While it might be a case of too little too late, a public apology for leading fans on and acknowledging what we all know – that he and Wade and Bosh were teaming up no matter what – would go a long way to repairing his image.

ON COURT ANTICS

But it’s not just the decision that irks many about Lebron.  His on the court gloating and preening do not resonate with a generation of fans that I grew up with.   As a Michigan native, my idols growing up were Barry Sanders, Steve Yzerman and Joe Dumars – guys who always looked like they had been there before, and never would have considered showing up an opponent publicly.  Now I’m not naïve enough to think that sports still operate the way they did in the 80’s and 90’s – celebrations, trash talk, etc. are all part of the game.  But there is something that doesn’t sit right with the best player in the world (and let’s be clear, that’s what Lebron is), celebrating like he’s the 12th guy on a college basketball team who scored his first point on an alley-oop.  When you’re as good as Lebron is, EVERYTHING you do on the court should be expected.  I’m not saying he shouldn’t celebrate the big moments, but let’s make sure they are the big moments.  A last second 3 pointer to close-out a 7 game series counts; a breakaway dunk to extend a lead to 12 does not.    Part of Jordan’s greatness is that he always expected to make the shot, be the guy, and win the game.  And while he certainly celebrated when he won, he knew when it mattered and when it didn’t.  Lebron still doesn’t get what’s worth celebrating.  And if you need any evidence, the way in which he acted after the Heat took out the Celtics in the second round is a perfect example.

While we’re on the topic of Lebron’s on-court demeanor, I’d like to remind Lebron that he is capable of fouling another player, getting a shot blocked without being fouled, and traveling.  From the way he responds when a ref doesn’t give him the call he likes, you’d think they’d slept with his mother (too soon?).  Lebron’s incredulous response to almost every whistle that doesn’t go his way is another reason nobody north of Fort Lauderdale is rooting for him.  I’m not saying Lebron shouldn’t get the star treatment when it comes to calls – that’s par for the course when it comes to the NBA.  And he has every right to work the refs from time to time.  But every time a call goes against Lebron, you can be sure that the next shot on-camera will be Lebron with his hands on his head, a confused look on his face, and a half smile/half scowl hidden by his mouth-guard.  Even the best players make mistakes, but from watching Lebron you’d never think he is fallible.  All eyes are going to be on Lebron no matter what, he doesn’t need to do things to draw extra attention to himself, especially when he’s acting like a pouting teenager.

WE NEED A MOMENT

When an athlete makes the leap from great to immortal, it usually involves a signature moment that is seared into our minds for eternity.  Those moments usually lead to championships, and together, they create a memory.  And even if that player is unlikeable as a person, if the moment is awe-inspiring, we will let our grudge go to acknowledge what has been accomplished.  When it comes to basketball, Jordan had his hand changing layup over the Lakers and his shoulder shrug against the Blazers, Magic had his baby hook, and Bird had his steal.   Lebron had his 48 point game to take out the Pistons in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, but without the title, it didn’t make the leap to iconic status.  Maybe it’s a last second jumper, or an incredible 4th quarter outburst, but Lebron needs to find his moment en route to a championship.  Do that and even his most ardent critics will have to be silenced, and may even be forced to sing his praises.

LET YOUR GUARD DOWN

If Lebron is fortunate enough to have his “moment” this week or next, let’s hope he follows it by letting us peak behind the curtain and see the real Lebron, instead of the protected image he’s had since he was the anointed one at age 16.  Remember, Lebron was the first high school star that garnered real television ratings while he was still in high school, and unlike most young phenoms, he’s actually lived up to the hype.  But the downside to that is that Lebron has been in the spotlight since he was a junior in high school.  He’s learned to carefully craft an image of who he is, or more likely, who he thinks he should be.  He is notorious for his inner circle of friends from Akron who both manage his life and his career.  They protect him, promote him, and surround him.  And sadly, that’s led to a corporate image of an athlete we don’t really know.  Almost everything about Lebron seems contrived or staged, and nothing seems genuine.  In the age of media access we live in, it’s almost shocking that nobody really knows the real Lebron.  I can’t entirely blame him, as I’m sure he learned at a young age that his talents were special, and that he needed to be concerned about people looking to take advantage of him.   But that wall he puts up to protect himself also isolates him from the fans and the media.  He’s never standoffish, but he rarely seems friendly or willing to share what he really thinks.  Lebron doesn’t have to be an open book, but even if people don’t agree with what you think, they’ll like you more if you have the guts to say it, and defend it.  Instead of telling people what he thinks they want to hear, Lebron needs to take down his wall and tell the world what he really thinks.

If the title doesn’t happen for him this year, it will happen for him soon.  He’s too good for it not to.  But winning a title by itself won’t give him the image he wants, and it won’t make people like him.  That’s going to take some work on the court, and off.  If Lebron is willing to make some fundamental changes to his approach, he can have it all.  Otherwise, he may end up being the best player in the league with the least amount of fans.

Your Image Is Never Above The Law

The Justice System can be swift and unforgiving.

I recently published the following article on a website that caters to aspiring professional basketball players and college/NBA recruiters:

An unknown author once wrote, “remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions.  You may have a heart of gold, but so does a hard-boiled egg.”  This statement is quite powerful.  It reminds us that one’s actions, not mere intentions, are everything.  This statement is particularly true when your image is a brand and ultimately your source of income.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am not, and never will be, an exceptionally talented athlete who plays a professional sport for a living.  In fact, I do what some people consider to be quite boring.  I am the quintessential “corporate desk jockey.”  At age 29, I practice law as a corporate litigator in New York City, suing companies and white-collar professionals on a daily basis.  As a result, I know and understand four critical things: (i) the power of money; (ii) what it is like to be a young professional; (iii) that one bad decision can translate into a courtroom appearance; and (iv) how quickly such an appearance can strip a professional of his career.  Accordingly, in this article, I will highlight certain legal factors every young professional athlete should consider in cultivating a positive image.

The Power of Money

In most cultures, money, at least in part, is a symbol of power.  With the right bank account, the World becomes your oyster.  I can recall thinking to myself as a kid (and every now and then as an adult), “what would I do if I won the lottery?”  Instantly, a million answers leapt into my head: I would spin a globe like Prince Akeem and randomly select a destination; I would fulfill each one of my need-for-speed desires by purchasing several European made sports cars; I would purchase a home in each of my favorite cities; and most importantly, I would not think twice about my actions, because why should I, I’m a millionaire, right?!?

In contrast to my delusions of lottery grandeur, sixty men actually win the “NBA lottery” each June, gaining the right to play for 1 of 30 National Basketball Association teams.  Last year’s average first-year salary for an NBA rookie drafted in the first round amounted to just under $1.7 million.  This number does not take into account the first-year endorsement money reaped by certain uniquely talented rookies.  Thus, in addition to the pressure of performing up to huge expectations on the court, NBA rookie players are given the daunting task of managing their lives off the court as newfound millionaires.  Recently, too many young professional athletes have squandered such money not because they purchased expensive cars and lavish homes, but because they miscalculated the legal ramifications of their actions.  Indeed, what these athletes didn’t realize is that their image is never above the law.  Notwithstanding O.J. Simpson’s success with the late, great Johnnie Cochran at his side, fortunately you can never buy your way out of a confrontation with the U.S. Justice System.  Moreover, a legal confrontation can arise at the blink of an eye, while tarnishing your image in an even shorter period of time.

The Young Professional

The definition of the young professional is quite expansive these days.  In an era where one of the most talented rap stars of all time is as successful in business at age 41 as he was with music at age 26, the professional title is no longer limited to those individuals associated with law, medicine, big-business or Wall Street.  The professional constitutes anyone from an athlete/entertainer to the Chief Executive Officer of a large corporation.

In carrying the professional title, one must accommodate the baggage that comes along with it, including the responsibility of making sound decisions.  Importantly, one’s inattention to this responsibility can amount to professional suicide.  For instance, over the past four years, the following group of professionals has consistently been the target of criticism and negative attention from the government, the media, and the average citizen: the Wall Street and corporate tycoons.  Understandably, a negative aura has followed this group of professionals because many of their most wealthy figures contributed to the demise of the U.S. economy (cough, cough…Bernard Madoff…cough).  I won’t bore you with the details, but, as you probably know, their reckless deeds did not go unpunished.  In fact, I can’t count on two hands the number of corporate executives, wealth managers or professional investors who have been recently fined and/or served jail time as a result of their violations of the U.S. securities laws and regulations.  Many, if not most of them, never anticipated that one bad decision would lead them down a path of fraud and deceit, and the eventual loss of their professional reputation and ability to earn a living.  At the end of the day, many of these white-collar criminals were stripped of their professions because of their greed and a complete disregard for anything other than making money.

So, you might be wondering, “where is he going with this?  I’m an up-and-coming professional athlete, not an executive capable of violating the U.S. securities laws.”  My point is simple; money can similarly cause the young professional athlete to lose sight of the most critical responsibility accompanying the title: maintaining a squeaky-clean image.

A Legal Confrontation Can Arise At The Blink of An Eye

As a male in my late twenties, I am certainly capable of making the occasional bad decision.  I’ll provide an example that all of us have either been in or seen played out on television: you decide to meet a friend at a crowded and chaotic bar.  While you’re attempting to grab a drink, a drunken guy bumps into you, spilling his beverage all over your crisp, new outfit.  To make things worse, the guy fails to acknowledge his wrong, giving you a look as if he’s owed an apology.  The two of you exchange a couple of unpleasant words, and eventually, you find yourself laying a hand on the guy, escalating the situation to a level further than it should have ever reached.

Here’s a second example: you meet an attractive young lady while you’re out with a few friends.  One thing leads to another, and she comes back to your home later that night.  You two have sex, and she departs the next morning before you even get an opportunity to learn more than her first name.  To your surprise, the young lady is 15 years old.  You’re 23.

I’ll provide a third and final example: a friend who you’ve known for almost your entire life presents an idea to you.  He recently learned that a well-off acquaintance of his stores large quantities of alcohol in his home.  He proposes that you provide him a ride to the acquaintance’s home, where he will gain entrance into the residence and take a couple bottles of alcohol for you all to share.  He promises that the acquaintance won’t even realize that such a small quantity of alcohol is missing.  He additionally assures you that if anything goes wrong, you’ll be okay because “giving him a ride doesn’t constitute a crime.”  You two go through with the plan and subsequently share the alcohol your friend procures.

Let’s dissect the former examples.  With respect to the first one, where did you go wrong?  Well, if you are, or soon will be, an NBA player, there are a number of appropriate answers to this question, for instance:

1)    If it’s during the NBA season, maybe the better decision would have been to stay at home and rest;

2)    You shouldn’t surround yourself with friends who regularly hangout in such environments;

3)    You should have immediately walked away from the situation, exiting the bar; or

4)    You should have hired professionals to accompany you and guard against such confrontations.

Now, these answers were likely obvious to many of you.  However, let me ask a much tougher question: do you know the possible legal ramifications of your actions in example one?  Unfortunately, a majority of you probably does not know the following answer to the question: common law battery constitutes an unlawful application of force to another, resulting in either bodily injury or an offensive touching.[1]  In many jurisdictions, merely laying a hand on another person rises to the level of offensive touching.  Moreover, battery is a general intent crime, meaning in order to be charged with or potentially convicted of the crime, you must only intend to act, not cause a specific result.  Therefore, in the first example, even if you only intended to lightly touch the other guy, if he reasonably felt offended or harmed by it, you could find yourself arrested and eventually inside a courtroom.

Let’s keep it moving.  With respect to the second example, the obvious answer as to where you went wrong is that you failed to actually learn anything substantive about your sexual partner.  What you may not know is that in New York State (and in many other U.S. States), a person under 17 years of age is legally incapable of consenting to sexual intercourse or other sexual contact.  Thus, in many jurisdictions, example two constitutes a statutory rape violation.  Because statutory rape is a strict liability crime, your ignorance regarding the woman’s age is irrelevant.  In other words, a court of law will not even address your state of mind in determining whether you committed the crime.

The third and final example unfortunately occurs too often.  Many people are ignorant to the fact that minimally aiding someone who commits a crime will get them in just as much trouble as the person who committed the crime.  Here, you were an accomplice to your friend’s burglary of the acquaintance’s home.  Burglary in New York and most U.S. States constitutes entering or remaining unlawfully in a building with the intent to commit a crime therein.  The crime that your friend intended to, and did eventually, commit is larceny, which, in its common law form, is a trespassory (wrongful and without permission) taking and carrying away of personal property of another with the intent of permanently depriving the owner.  Accomplice liability arises when a person intentionally aids or encourages another person in the commission of a crime.  The accomplice must actually intend that the crime occur.  In most jurisdictions, merely driving one to and/or from the scene of a crime rises to the level of accomplice liability.  Further, the Court typically finds the accomplice guilty of any crime the principle is guilty of committing.  Thus, in this example, a court of law likely would find you guilty of burglary, where it also convicts your friend of the crime.

A Day In Court Amounts To More Than A Day of Lost Wages

I provide the foregoing examples as proof that certain intentions, seeming so innocent, can effortlessly translate into imperfect actions.  For certain lucky individuals, these actions will be excused by present and/or future employers.  However, the professional athlete is rarely so lucky.  Professional athletes are akin to executive officers of a corporation; once the board of directors and shareholders (i.e., league commissioner, front office and fans) lose all of the confidence they once had in their leaders, the six to seven figure salaries dry up.  For instance, several prominent athletes have recently squandered guaranteed wages as a result of reasonably avoidable damage to their image:

Professional Athlete

Lost Wages

Tiger Woods As of July 2010, his endorsement deals had declined from $92 million to $70 million, including lost contracts with Gatorade, Accenture and AT&T.
Michael Vick As of August 2007, it was estimated that he would lose $100 million as a result of lost future salary, potential repayment of bonuses to the Falcons for defaulting on his contract, and endorsement money drying up.
Kobe Bryant He lost endorsement contracts with McDonalds, Nutella, and Coca-Cola, amounting to between $4 and $6 million of lost income.
Latrell Sprewell He lost the remaining three years of a four-year $32 million contract with the Golden State Warriors and a $500k-$700k per year endorsement contract with Converse.
O.J. Simpson He lost a $2.5 million per year endorsement contract with Hertz, his NFL commentary job with NBC, and his future appearances in the Naked Gun movie series.

Naturally, the question arises, what can future athletes do to avoid this dilemma?  First, at an early age, a person who intends to pursue a career in professional sports should be mindful of how his actions can adversely affect his image.  Second, he must realize that notwithstanding all of his hard work and the large player/endorsement contracts accompanying it, he has not earned the privilege to ignore the potential negative ramifications of his actions.  Third, he must seek out mentors who have been where he is going, as there’s plenty of truth to the old adage, “you are who you surround yourself with.”

– NRH


[1] Offensive touching loosely constitutes contact that a person of ordinary sensitivity would not permit.