Injury also could unsell Jackson's career in ads

March 19, 1991|By Bruce Horovitz | Bruce Horovitz,Los Angeles Times

With Bo Jackson's career on the field in doubt, where does that leave his off-the-field commercial career?

Even Bo doesn't know. But after an injured Jackson was released yesterday by the Kansas City Royals, some sports marketing experts said Jackson could emerge as an even bigger commercial star if his sports career is finished.

"The proportions of his legend would only increase," said Ray Benton, vice chairman of Sport Partners International, an Arlington, Va.-based sports marketing firm. "He would become a huge sympathetic figure. His fame could achieve mythlike proportions."

Not every athlete can become a legend in four professional years. It doesn't hurt, of course, if you're the only professional all-star in both football and baseball.

The legend wore crutches yesterday when he met with his doctor in Birmingham, Ala. Meanwhile, at a news conference in Haines City, Fla., the Royals announced his release from the team. Jackson said he still plans to play baseball -- and maybe even football.

Jackson injured his hip when he was tackled after long run during a Los Angeles Raiders playoff game in January. Since then, there has been speculation that Jackson is suffering from avascular necrosis, a potentially disabling condition that stops the blood flow to the bone.

Injured or not, "if you say the word 'Bo,' everyone in the country knows what you're talking about," said Eddie Tapscott, client manager at the Washington-based sports marketing firm Advantage International.

Bo's popularity "runs far, far beyond his popularity on the field," .. said Fred Fried, vice president of marketing at ProServ, an Arlington, Va.-based sports marketer.

Such assessments are good news not only for Jackson but for the three companies with which he has long-term commercial contracts: Nike, Pepsico and American Telephone & Telegraph Co. Jackson is in the second year of an estimated $3 million, three-year contract with Nike. And Pepsico and AT&T also signed him to contracts that pay him an estimated $500,000 annually.

But not everyone thinks Jackson's commercial career can survive if his playing days are over. "If he's no longer busting through the line and running 60 yards, or no longer hitting home runs in the All-Star game, I can't see how just his personality would sustain him," said Bob Kuperman, president of the Venice, Calif., office of the ad agency Chiat-Day-Mojo.

For its part, Nike said it has no intention of changing its relationship with Jackson.

"We have never canceled a contract because of an injury to an athlete," said Elizabeth Dolan, a Nike spokeswoman.

Jackson has an "astoundingly high" level of familiarity and likability among Nike's target market, teen-agers, said Steven Levitt, president of Marketing Evaluations Inc., a Port Washington, N.Y., research firm.

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