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Peyton Manning's Retirement Prompts Endorsement Question: Is it Better to Build or Buy?

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 9/03/2016 Greg Portell

It is official. Peyton Manning is retiring from football. While Manning's football career will be enshrined in Canton, his mastery as a brand spokesperson will cement him in pop culture history. He is the all-time leader in NFL earnings with $400 million from salary and endorsements. Meanwhile, Maria Sharapova is facing the potential loss of $30 million in annual endorsement money - four times what she earns on the court. Regardless of sport, athletes recognize the importance of sponsors as a source of income.
For advertisers, the push for integrated marketing draws brands to athletes like a moth to a flame. Borrowing the spotlight from athletes is a quick path to brand relevance. Setting aside boxers Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, the world's 20 highest-paid athletes collected almost $1 billion in 2015, according to Forbes. Almost half - a staggering $470 million - is from endorsements. The ratio would have been higher if not for a few athletes who are unmarketable (Ndamukong Suh, for example). The market for athlete endorsers is open for business and brands are shopping with zeal.
Chief Financial Officers at brand companies are left wondering how best to manage those quickly growing budgets. Is it more advantageous to "buy" established personalities who come with their own mythology? Or, are brands better off identifying emerging athletes with the right appeal and building a shared story where both win?
There are only a few truly iconic sports stars that transcend sports - making the decision to build or buy an easy one. As the cost of acquiring lesser known talent rises and the associated risks grow, marketers should opt to "build." Under Armour (Jordan Speith), Red Bull (Lindsey Vonn) and Uniqlo (Novak Djokovic) provide roadmaps for how to build brands together. Beyond a high-performing athlete, success requires engaging personality, a willingness to step outside the comfort zone, social media savvy and the ability to generate content. All of which needs to stay on message - for both the brand and the athlete.
With those criteria in mind, here are some intriguing athletes who fit the profile for those looking to "build":
Mikaela Shiffrin: With an Olympic gold and 30+ podiums in five years on the World Cup circuit, the 21-year old skier is a proven talent. During interviews and on social media, she displays an easy-going, witty personality which should appeal to a broad range of brands. As a plus, her Twitter feed confirms she is comfortable in a world of #hashtags. Even after being recognized as "winter sport's most marketable athlete" and deals with Longines and Wheaties, she remains underdeveloped as a spokesperson. While the objective is to build a brand beyond the sport, Shiffrin's future partners will be aided by at least two Olympic cycles where she will likely be the face of the US Olympic team.
Crystal Dunn: A relative newcomer to the high-profile US Women's National Team, Dunn has appeared in only 28 caps but has a history of soccer success. Isolating individual players in team sports is notoriously difficult. However, goals scorers tend to stand out - Dunn has eleven in her short international career. Perhaps Dunn's outburst is isolated success, but the USWNT has a history of prolific scorers who have become household names: Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach and current star Alex Morgan. To a marketer, Dunn is a relative blank slate with a narrow digital footprint, only 30,000 Twitter followers compared to Alex Morgan's 2.2 million. With the right brand support, there is a lot of upside.
Nick Kyrgios: An athlete from a sport known for high-profile implosions, Kyrgios fits the bill as a potential star. The 20-year old might just as easily self-combust in a series of adolescent temper tantrums. The result is a high-risk, high-reward asset could follow in the footsteps of tennis bad boys Connors, McEnroe, Becker and Agassi. Boom-Boom himself recognized the Aussie as "a future champion" who will win a Grand Slam. With his aggressive style and brash voice it is no surprise Beats By Dre celebrates Kyrgios in a classic Play Your Own Rules spot that harkens back to Agassi's old Change and Image Is Everything campaigns for Canon Rebel. It will take a brand team comfortable with walking the line of what qualifies as acceptable public behavior. Good or bad, the amplification will be there.
Professional sports teams have recognized the cost of acquiring high-profile free agent talent is becoming prohibitively high. In response, teams are improving their talent management programs to build sustainable feeder programs. Marketers face similar challenges. Borrowing the brand halo from established stars puts too much risk in one spot. In an era of paid, owned, shared and earned media (POSE), marketers need every tool to amplify their brand voice. Whether it comes from Missy Franklin (swimming), Joe Berenyi (para-cycling), John Landsteiner (curling), Adrienne Lyle (dressage) or someone else will depend on how marketers build their talent pipeline. The best example will be the future star locked into an endorsement deal before we even know their name.

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