Roddick's quick exit earns him no credit

Tennis: The young star's first-round departure from the U.S. Open throws an ad campaign for a loop.

September 01, 2005|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

The jokes are almost too easy.

"Where is Andy's Mojo?" asked the American Express ads featuring tennis star Andy Roddick and an alter ego, who went traipsing around Manhattan instead of helping with preparations for the U.S. Open.

Where was it, indeed, when Roddick lost in the first round at Flushing Meadows on Tuesday night?

Maybe it went back to Barney's to return some of the snazzy clothes the alter ego bought. Or maybe it missed hanging with those women at the jazz club.

Or maybe it went to Luxembourg, the tiny home country of 68th-ranked Gilles Muller, who vanquished Roddick in straight sets.

The credit card campaign, tied to this year's Open, produced a flame-out reminiscent of Reebok's Dan and Dave campaign, which hit the skids after decathlete Dan O'Brien failed to qualify for the 1992 Olympics.

Those are the pitfalls when companies hook up with individual athletes, who risk defeat on a public stage day after day. The snafu isn't the end of the world for either Roddick or American Express, marketers say.

"But it does hurt a little bit," said Ryan Schinman, president of New York's Platinum Rye Entertainment, which matches athletes with corporate clients. "Anytime a company has that association, they want their guy to do better."

Especially American Express, Schinman, said, with its focus on an elite customer base.

"They're all about superiority," he said. "They want winners, and that's what they're about."

American Express officials shrugged off the loss, saying they're working on modifications to the ads, but will run them throughout the tournament.

"When we create a campaign, we do think of the what-ifs," said spokeswoman Judy Tenzler. "Besides, the ads aren't really about winning, they're about celebrating the Open."

American Express isn't saying how much it paid for the Roddick ads. But the company had big plans for the campaign, creating a Web site, www.andysmojo.com, that would link visitors to various stops on the mojo's tour of the city.

Tenzler noted the ads are a small part of the company's overall sponsorship of the tournament. She added that the company's relationship with Roddick will continue.

His loss "was clearly unexpected for everybody," she said. "But that's why there's always the next tournament."

Fortunately for Roddick, most still see him as a winner. He remains good-looking, well-spoken and possessed of a sledgehammer game that should carry him to future titles.

"It's definitely a curveball, but the thing with Roddick is, he's a definite superstar," said Robert Tuchman, president and chief executive officer of TSE Sports and Entertainment in New York. "He'll be playing in another tournament soon, and he'll probably win more tournaments."

Schinman agreed.

"He's a guy I would certainly encourage corporations to go after," he said. "He's still a fresh face, he's clean-cut and he's got the wins to back it up."

There's also the possibility that Roddick's Open implosion will make the campaign more of a talking point than it would've been otherwise

In the wake of O'Brien's decathlon loss in 1992, Reebok created new ads featuring him as Dave Johnson's cheerleader in chief. And some say the campaign wouldn't be remembered today if O'Brien hadn't fallen on his face.

"I think that's a way to look at it," said Tuchman. "People remember Dan and Dave more than they remember some of the most successful campaigns."

Roddick's official Web site took the fun road yesterday, quipping, "Mojo can't help as Andy crashes out in round one."

So did Michael Barkann of the USA Network when interviewing American player Mardy Fish, who also appeared in the ads.

"What happened to his mojo?" Barkann asked after Roddick lost the first set.

"We got his mojo right here," Fish replied.

"I think the mojo needs to get back to Andy right now," Barkann concluded.

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