End could renew commercial streak Renewed Ripken interest to increase marketability

September 22, 1998|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

The end of Cal Ripken's record-setting streak of consecutive games may rekindle interest in the Orioles player among corporate sponsors who had begun to look toward hotter stars to endorse their products.

Ripken was a sought-after commodity three years ago, when he surpassed Lou Gehrig for durability. He was paid to promote Chevrolet trucks, Sprint mobile phone service, True Value Hardware, Nike, Rawlings, and others.

Ripken remains busy with such work. But, as memories faded of that poignant September 1995 evening at Camden Yards, so too did interest in him as a national spokesman, experts say. He remains among the top baseball figures for such commercial work, but baseball itself has fallen well behind football and basketball in attractiveness to corporate sponsors.

"I think most advertisers tend to use whoever is current. They want today's hero," said Stephen L. Disson, president of D&F Consulting Ltd. of Washington, a company that lines up athletes for endorsements.

Ripken earned an estimated $6.5 million in commercial work in 1997, about a quarter of it coming from sales of memorabilia, according to Forbes magazine's last annual estimate of the earnings of athletes. That ranked the Oriole at 14th among sports figures. The top earner, NBA star Michael Jordan, earned $47 million.

"He's not as big as a Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods. But within baseball he is one of the top five," Disson said.

Taking a day off thrust the Iron Man back on the front pages of newspapers across the country. By bringing new attention to an old record, Ripken may have enhanced his appeal, Disson said.

And by ending the streak on his own terms, with Ripkenesque grace and understatement, he avoided what may have been a far uglier situation -- such as a manager forcing the issue.

Furthermore, the timing may prove fortuitous, Disson said. Sluggers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa have piqued more interest among corporations than the home run kings could possibly satisfy. Ripken will be in a good position to stand in since he too is a bona fide baseball hero.

"Cal will be a nice alternative," Disson said.

At Sprint Spectrum, which used Ripken to promote its mobile phone service, the player only helped himself with his impressive handling of a difficult situation.

"Cal has always represented honesty, loyalty and hard work and those are qualities that were reinforced last night," spokeswoman Caroline Semerdjian said yesterday.

Noreen Jenney, president of Celebrity Endorsement Network, agrees that interest in Ripken has cooled but could heat up again with the end of the streak.

"You need the hoopla around somebody, somebody who is drawing attention to themselves for something," Jenney said.

Ira Rainess, general counsel of the Tufton Group, which handles Ripken's commercial contracts, said, "Now that it's over, people are going to re-examine what his accomplishments are."

Rainess said he collected the lineup cards from the game and will procure Ripken's uniform, all of which will be apportioned among the three museums tracking the player: the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., Baltimore's Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum and the Ripken Museum in Aberdeen.

QVC Inc., a television shopping channel, began taking orders for streak-ending merchandise as soon as Sunday night's game ended, at about 11: 30 p.m., said QVC spokeswoman Cheryl Trecoske.

"A little birdie told us" Ripken would sit out the game, Trecoske said. The network interrupted its regular broadcast to offer the memorabilia, as it has done for other recent sports events, such as McGwire's 62nd home run.

Among the Ripken-authorized memorabilia: 2,632 autographed balls -- one for each game of his streak -- selling for $198 each, and a gold-foil commemorative card for $29.75, and a wooden plaque with a photo of Ripken taken at the game and selling for $39.75.

Pub Date: 9/22/98

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