The 30-second Drill

Colts quarterback Peyton manning moves all over the field as a TV pitchman

Super Bowl XLI

January 30, 2007|By Abigail Tucker | Abigail Tucker,sun reporter

Over the course of his career with the Indianapolis Colts, quarterback Peyton Manning has been paid to: flick his little brother's earlobe, confess an affinity for cooking shows, hatch out of a football, cheer for deli workers, utter the word "doggone" on national television, meditate and wear a toupee.

He's done it all cheerfully, and why not? Along with his $98-million, seven- year contract with the Colts, Manning reportedly has the most lucrative endorsement setup in the NFL, pitching for companies such as Sprint, DirecTV and Mas- terCard even though he's never so much as appeared in the Super Bowl until now.

And even if the Colts were to get clobbered in Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears, experts say Manning's advertising stats probably won't be sacked because his marketing allure stems more from his personality than his performance. The hammy Manning has emerged as one of those rare sports figures whose commercial success outguns his athletic record, and his pop culture appeal continues to grow regardless of what happens on game days.

"People feel like he's their next-door neighbor," says Todd Krinsky, vice president of sports and entertainment marketing for Reebok, which signed an endorsement deal with Manning in 2001. "He's one of those guys you know you want to be with for the duration of his career."

"He's really coming into his own as of late," says Steve McDaniel, who teaches sport marketing and media at the University of Maryland. "He's a lead athlete, but he comes across as an Everyman."

And Manning is fast becoming a familiar face outside the football fan base as he floats, Forrest Gump-like, though the commercial lineup. That he'll finally be center stage in Miami on Super Bowl Sunday, the advertising industry's finest hours, will only heighten his profile. His transcendent presence recalls when Joe Namath, years after his Super Bowl celebrity, had become so recognizable to mainstream America that he played himself on an episode of The Brady Bunch.

Full of charisma

Experts chalk up Manning's magnetism not only to his football prowess, but also to his personal charisma, his place in a family football dynasty - his younger brother is an NFL quarterback, while his father is a former one - and his keen business strategy, which seems unusually receptive to endorsements.

Though his performance on the field is nothing to sneeze at - he holds the NFL record for most touchdown passes in a season, he's creeping up on several lifetime records, and he's guided the Colts to the playoffs seven of the past eight seasons - Manning lacks the untouchable reputation of dominant endorsers like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. (Woods still rakes in much more than Manning, making over $80 million compared with the quarterback's $11.5 million, according to a recent Sports Illustrated survey). Indeed, at least until this postseason, Manning's been defined as much by high-profile postseason failures as by his passing records and most valuable player awards.

But as a pitchman Manning reportedly scores bigger than anyone else in the NFL, including the New England Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady, with his three Super Bowl rings. Manning was recently named the league's "most marketable player" by the Sports Business Journal, and ranked behind only the Green Bay Packers' Brett Favre in another survey that focuses on player recognition.

Manning's raft of endorsements has prompted unlikely comparisons to another commercial overachiever, tennis player Anna Kournikova. But her selling power derives from a singular source, her great beauty, while Manning is not as pretty as Brady, let alone the golden-haired Russian.

Manning has built his commercial presence around character rather than chiseled looks or championships, developing an identity as a humble, good-humored and fundamentally decent fellow, according to Jim Andrews, editorial director of the IEG Sponsorship Report, which tracks corporate sponsorships.

"He has this all-American, guy-next-door image," Andrews says. "He's the guy who you want to pal around with. Brady's more of a glamour boy."

Indeed, Manning masquerades as an ordinary fan in some of his more famous commercials, including one for Sprint, where he dons a stick-on moustache and toupee to proclaim the greatness of Peyton Manning and his "laser-rocket arm," and several for MasterCard, where, like a deranged tailgater, he roots for regular people, including deli workers and deliverymen.

"He's willing to look kind of silly, a little goofy," McDaniel says. "There are some athletes who wouldn't do that."

His nice-guy aura is enhanced by his clean reputation as well as by the public service work he's done for Hurricane Katrina victims and other causes, leading some to dub him the NFL's "ambassador."

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