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Old 01-03-2010, 12:41 AM   #1
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Default Big Ben's marketability intact despite legal woes

Big Ben's marketability intact despite legal woes
By Jason Cato
Sunday, January 3, 2010

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has fared better than most celebrity athletes who became ensnared in off-field tribulations, sports marketing analysts believe.

"It doesn't look like he was dinged too much," said Darin David, a director with Millsport, a Dallas-based sports marketing agency.

In July, a Nevada casino worker filed a civil lawsuit claiming Roethlisberger sexually assaulted her during a 2008 celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe. The lawsuit has been on hold while the Nevada Supreme Court mulls a venue-change request.

Roethlisberger, winner of two Super Bowls, vehemently denied the allegations. He has sued the woman for damages to his image and off-field earning potential. Neither Roethlisberger nor his agent, Ryan Tollner, would comment for this story.

Several surveys measuring the marketability of celebrities show that Roethlisberger's endorsement ability suffered little following the claims.

The Davie-Brown Index -- or DBI -- recalculated Roethlisberger's scores in August. The index showed his overall rating increased to 58.32 compared to 53.05 in October 2008. The index measures the consumer appeal of more than 2,400 celebrities in eight categories, ranging from awareness and appeal to trust and aspiration.

DBI is managed by Millsport and its parent company, The Marketing Arm.

Roethlisberger's appeal rating dipped slightly, from 73.09 in October 2008 to 71.95 in August. His influence rating grew from 60.94 to 64.6. His endorsement rating increased slightly, from 65.28 to 65.61, during that same time frame.

"If anything, I thought (the lawsuit) might have had a little more impact," said David, noting the seriousness of the allegations.

Roethlisberger's denial has been believable, and news surrounding the lawsuit has quieted down nationally, David said.

Fallen stars

Other athletes who faced trouble in 2009 saw their DBI ratings dip, sometimes dramatically.

Tiger Woods' endorsement rating plummeted from 77.67 to 58.79 once news of his extramarital escapades became public after Thanksgiving. Several sponsors -- including AT&T, Accenture, Tag Heuer and Gillette -- have either dropped or backed away from Woods.

Kellogg's walked away from Olympics swimming champion Michael Phelps in February after photographs surfaced of Phelps smoking marijuana at a college party. His DBI endorsement rating fell from 82.5 to 67.23.

Henry Schafer, executive vice president of Marketing Evaluations in Manhasset, N.Y., agreed that the lawsuit against Roethlisberger has not had nearly the impact on his marketing appeal.

"If Pittsburgh was on its way to another Super Bowl, he'd be a prime candidate for a big endorsement deal," Schafer said. His company compiles "Q Scores," which have measured celebrities' popularity with consumers since 1963.

Roethlisberger's Q Score in February was 22 overall with 44 percent name recognition among the general public. In September, Roethlisberger had the same recognition with an overall Q Score of 21.

Athletes average an overall score of 15 and 37 percent name recognition.

Both rating services are important to companies looking to hire celebrities for endorsement deals, said Audrey Guskey, a Duquesne University marketing professor and expert on consumer trends.

"Companies are very careful in trying to screen these celebrities, because their brand is going to be tied to them," Guskey said. "Something could go very wrong and cost them tremendously."

Woods last year earned $92 million through endorsements -- the most by far for a sports figure, according to Sports Illustrated's 2009 "Fortunate 50" ranking of the richest U.S. athletes. Golfer Phil Mickelson was second with $46.6 million in endorsements, while NBA star Lebron James' $28 million was third.

Roethlisberger's off-field endeavors brought in $2.5 million, the magazine reported.

By comparison, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning led NFL players with $13 million in endorsement deals last year.


None of Roethlisberger's sponsors has dropped him. Other than Nike, most of his deals are with local or regional businesses and products. Those include Big Ben BBQ Sauce and No. 1 Cochran Automotive.

PLB Sports Inc. of Robinson and Roethlisberger first teamed up in 2005 to market Big Ben Beef Jerky. The contract includes a morals clause, said PLB President Ty Ballou.

Ballou said his company never considered dropping Roethlisberger.

"We said we're going forward, and I'm very happy we did," Ballou said.

Online sales of Roethlisberger's jerky tripled this year and are up about 20 percent overall, Ballou said. He declined to give sales figures.

Sales took a hit in recent weeks, Ballou said.

"Our sales are heavily driven by how the team and the player does," he said. "Ben has done very well. But the Steelers, by their standards, are not having a good year."

While the Super Bowl champions are 8-7 and in danger of not making the playoffs, Roethlisberger is enjoying one of his best seasons.

Going into today's game in Miami, Roethlisberger has career highs in yards passing, 3,849, and completions, 302.

Bob Dorfman, executive creative director with San Francisco-based Baker Street Advertising, publishes Sports Marketers' Scouting Report for each major professional sports championship. He had Roethlisberger pegged as the most marketable player coming out of Super Bowl XLIII.

While Dorfman thought Roethlisberger would have scored more following his second Super Bowl title, he said the economy and Roethlisberger's apparent lack of interest to pursue major deals likely have had more impact than the lawsuit.

Add to that the team's disappointing season so far, he said.

"What it comes back to is your performance on the field," Dorfman said. "Winning solves a lot of problems."

Jason Cato can be reached at jcato@tribweb.com or 412-320-7840.
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