America is known as a forgiving society. If someone makes a mistake but offers a sincere apology, Americans likely are willing to forgive and move forward.
The same can be said for athletes, and endorsements. Here are three athletes who have made blunders causing them to lose fame and endorsements, but have since returned to the endorsement game and are now working for some of the largest brands in the world.
1. Tiger Woods
In 2009 Tiger Woods admitted to infidelity. In the days and months following Woods’ admission, several companies re-evaluated their endorsement deals with him. Accenture, AT&T, Gatorade and General Motors completely ended their endorsement deals with Woods. Likewise, Gillette chose to suspended advertising featuring Woods and watch manufacturer, Tag Heuer, dropped Woods from advertising in December 2009 and officially ended their endorsement deal with him when his contract expired in 2011.
However, there were some companies that stuck with him. Nike continued to support him and this past summer Woods and Nike agreed to their fourth golf endorsement contract together. Nike even caused quite a stir when they released an endorsement featuring Woods and the quote “Winning Takes Care of Everything.”
Likewise, Electronic Arts backed Woods by continuing to produce Tiger Woods PGA Tour, an annually released golf video game with Woods’ name and face on the cover.
Woods has even signed new endorsements since his scandal. In January 2012, Woods began endorsing watches for Rolex and in October 2012 he signed on with sports nutrition manufacturer, Fuse Science, Inc.
Clearly there are brands that feel Woods still has a long golf and endorsement career ahead of him, and that he still has the qualities desired for brand endorsements. Winning PGA Player of the Year and the Vardon Trophy in 2013 seems to have taken care of everything for Tiger.
2. Michael Vick
Michael Vick was one of the most electrifying quarterbacks the NFL had ever seen. His quick feet and playmaking ability earned him endorsement contracts with companies including: Nike, EA Sports, Coca-Cola, Powerade, Kraft, Rawlings, Hasbro and AirTran.
But, shortly before the kickoff of the 2007 NFL season, Vick was sentenced to prison after pleading guilty to federal dogfighting charges. His endorsement deals quickly vanished.
After serving his time in prison, Vick began to restore his image. He became a messenger for the Humane Society of the United States, using his to help reach new audiences. He’s supportive of the Pets for Life program to end dogfighting and helps spread the message through his public appearances. His videos help extend that reach to many more people.
Additionally, Vick embraced future hall of fame head coach, Tony Dungy, to mentor him and released a book titled “Finally Free”, in which Dungy provided the foreword.
In 2010 Vick won the starting QB job in Philly, led the Eagles to the playoffs, was voted to the NFL Pro-Bowl and won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award, along with the Ed Block Courage Award. He even gave back to the community and helped kids by donating $200K to restore a Pop Warner Youth Football field in Philadelphia.
After working to restore his image, Vick began to land endorsements again. Nike officially signed Vick as an endorser again on July 1, 2011. His re-signing marked the first time a sponsor had brought back an athlete after dropping him. In addition to Nike, Vick also signed a new endorsement deal with Unequal Technologies, a football pad supplier.
Vick served his time in prison, admitted his wrongdoing and his regret, now he is determined to make amends. He is back endorsing for some of the best brands in sports, while reclaiming his image to the public.
3. Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest basketball players of all time and he has the accolades to prove it.
Such stardom led to countless endorsements. However, in the summer of 2003 Bryant was accused of adultery and sexual assault. He admitted to adultery and settled the sexual assault civil lawsuit out of court. Never the less, the accusation tarnished Bryant’s reputation, as the public’s perception of Bryant plummeted. Many endorsements including McDonald’s, Ferrero and Nutella were immediately terminated.
Eventually Kobe’s success on the court (2008 NBA MVP, 2009 & 2010 NBA Championships), television appearances and likable personality worked to restore his reputation with the public and deals with Nike, Coca-Cola and Activision soon followed. With endorsements like that, it is safe to say the public has forgiven Bryant and accepted him as an endorser again.
Kobe Bryant was signed by Activision to endorse Call of Duty: Black Ops. Image courtesy ZIMBIO
So, WHY do companies re-sign fallen endorsers?
First, keep in mind that the reason brands utilize sports endorsers is because of the increase in revenue and excellent return on marketing investment dollars these athletes provide.
However, the reason brands are willing to re-sign fallen endorsers is because the American public (or, at the least, the brand’s target audience) has forgiven these athletes and are willing to accept them as endorsers again. Once the public forgives and accepts a comeback athlete as an endorser again, brands are willing to capitalize on an athlete’s lucrative endorsement potential.
Take Nike for example. They stood behind each of the three athletes highlighted here. Nike understands the profitable return these athletes provide, which is why they are willing to wait for the public to forgive them and feature them in endorsements again.
Is a comeback athlete right for your brand?
Once the public, or at least the brand’s target market, is willing to forgive a fallen athlete then they may still be able to provide great endorsement results, possibly for even less money. It may be a chance for your brand to get a high profile athlete at a bargain price!
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