Move over, Michael, Bo's here

April 04, 1991|By Melissa Isaacson | Melissa Isaacson,Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- How big is big? How big is Bo? How much is too much? And does Chicago have enough room for two giant-sized Nike murals?

The Chicago White Sox's signing of Bo Jackson brings to light many questions about Jackson's physical condition, his contract status, his future in football and even his psychological state. But it also brings together two of the biggest sports phenomenons around and presents one more mystery:

Is this town big enough for Michael Jordan and Bo Jackson?

Nike certainly thinks so. So do sports agents, attorneys, advertising types and other observers.

"They are the two hottest marketing commodities among professional athletes," said Alan Friedman, editor of Chicago-based Team Marketing Report, a monthly newsletter that covers the business and marketing trends in organized sports. "Both go beyond identification with one team or one city. They're national figures."

"Any town that can house Michael Jordan, Walter Payton, Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson, the Bulls, Blackhawks, Cubs, Sox and Bears surely has room for Bo," said Louis Cunningham, one of Jordan's attorneys at ProServ, a sports marketing firm in Arlington, Va. "Chicago totally embraces its sports heroes. It has enough love to spread around."

Having both in Chicago, the country's third-largest city and third-largest television market, can only make Jackson bigger on a local and national basis, said Los Angeles-based attorney Leigh Steinberg, who represents the Bears' Jim Harbaugh and Ron Morris.

"Chicago is the only city in the country that seems to have so much focus on its sports heroes that there's ample opportunity for everyone," Steinberg said. "Chicago will very nicely fit Bo Jackson into its group of superstars. I'm sure whoever is working with him is drooling at the prospect of Chicago."

And from Jordan: "It's great for the fans and the team. There's definitely room for both of us in the same town."

Both superstars have a strong identity with kids, and both promote such All-American ventures as sporting goods (Nike), breakfast cereal (both are General Mills spokesmen, Jordan for Wheaties, Jackson for Cheerios) and soda pop (Jordan for Coke, Jackson for Pepsi).

The value of Jordan's annual endorsements is estimated at $8 million to $10 million, Jackson's at $4 million.

The barometer for such things, the all-important Q Rating that advertisers use as a way to measure the marketability of celebrities, puts Jordan at the top of all athletes and No. 5 among all celebrities. Jackson is No. 12 on the sports list.

Jackson's signing with the White Sox thrills the graphic artists at Nike, who can now go wild with the black-and-silver color scheme (both the White Sox and Raiders colors). Buildings on the corporate compound in Beaverton, Ore., are named for both Jordan and Jackson, who appeared together in two Nike commercials, including the first "Bo Knows" ad, and could very possibly appear in more.

But will Bo infringe on Michael's territory?

"No one can even come close to Michael Jordan," Cunningham said. "That's not a slight on Bo, Magic [Johnson] or [Larry] Bird. It's just a common fact."

"Chicago is big enough for both of them," said Scott Hume, Chicago bureau chief of Advertising Age magazine, "but I would bet Michael is always going to be bigger because he's a homegrown celebrity in the sense that he has spent his whole career here. Bo is popular, but not to the extent Michael is, or for the same reasons Michael is. Michael is popular for the person he is as well as his on-field talents. I don't think people know Bo as well."

Said Steinberg: "Jordan has years of history that have institutionalized him in Chicago. Michael Jordan is a phenomenon. No other basketball player has that hold over a city. Magic Johnson does not have that hold over Los Angeles."

Hume agreed: "Anybody popular enough to have McDonald's name a sandwich after them is very popular. McDonald's doesn't mess with their menu for just anybody. If I were Burger King, I would hire Bo tomorrow. Even if he never plays. Unless, of course, they find out that the hip injury was cholesterol-induced."

Obviously, a lot still depends on Jackson's recovery from the injury, which the Kansas City Royals' team doctor predicted will keep him out of action for at least a year.

David Burns of Chicago-based Burns Sports Celebrities Service, which matches sports endorsers for advertisers, has worked with both Jackson and Jordan, and predicts Jackson "will be better known in the press because of the nature of his injury and the mystery of whether he'll play again. His progress will keep him more in the public eye."

Nike spokeswoman Liz Dolan insisted her company would "stick with Bo" regardless of his prognosis. Lee-Ann Germinder, spokeswoman for Barkley & Evergreen, an advertising agency in Shawnee Mission, Kan., that represents Jackson and Cramer Products in their Bo Med line of sports-medicine products, said: "We're with Bo all the way, whether he plays or doesn't play."

But reality, Steinberg said, may well be a little harsher.

"Bo will be a much bigger national star playing in Chicago," Steinberg said, "but he has to come back. It goes without saying that Bo has to be Bo. He has to be a player. He has to be on the field."

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