Commentary > SportsBiz
Advertisers won't bet on Rose
Even if banned baseball star is let back into the game, advertisers won't want him on their team.
January 10, 2004: 9:38 PM EST
A weekly column by Chris Isidore, CNN/Money senior writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - If it's possible, Pete Rose is less marketable as a celebrity endorser today than he's been any other time in the past 14 years.

In fact, about the only campaign one can see him in would be as the new Joe Isuzu -- and the carmaker has no plans to revive its lying pitchman.

For Rose, the problem is not just that he came across as truculent five-year old when he admitted that he bet on baseball.

Rose can be seen on ABC's  
"Charlie Hustle" indeed.

Rose obviously hopes his confession -- made in a TV interview and a book published Thursday -- will restore his eligibility for the Baseball Hall of Fame. He also clearly would like the chance to manage in the big leagues again.

There's considerable question whether he'll get either of those wishes. Reaction has been generally negative from sportswriters and Hall of Famers, the two groups that could eventually be voting on his entry into the Hall.

But no matter what happens on those two fronts, the chance of Rose returning to the world of television commercials is a long shot.

"Most of our corporate clients are looking for credible spokespersons," said Jeff Chown, managing director of the Marketing Arm, an entertainment and sports consultancy advising Fortune 500 companies. "I don't think he'll fall into that category after admitting he's been not telling the truth for 14 years."

Still has some stains

Part of the problem is that Rose's admission came in a book, 500,000 copies of which went on sale Thursday for a list price of $24.95.

"The best way for him to win over people was to have come clean and not have a book going on sale," said David Schwab, director of marketing at sports marketing firm Octagon, which represents many athletes. "The book is a lot of the reason people are sour."

Then there's the tone of the apology, which was defensive at best.

"For the last 14 years I've consistently heard the statement: 'If Pete Rose came clean, all would be forgiven,'" said Rose in the book excerpt published in this week's Sports Illustrated. "Well, I've done what you've asked. The rest is up to the commissioner and the big umpire in the sky."

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"The public is a lot more forgiving of people with true problems," said University of Delaware marketing professor John Antil. "But you've got to endear yourself to the public, appear more genuinely apologetic."

According to Antil, the timing of the admission actually made Rose less sympathetic in many people's eyes, because it stole the thunder from this week's Hall of Fame vote and was pegged to boost sales of the book.

So Rose issued an apology this week for the timing of the confession, and apologized again for hurting fans with his action. But it still appears he is only saying what he thinks will get him what he wants. He has not come across as contrite.

Rose's agent did not return a call seeking comment for this story.

Pretty high negatives

Rose already has some of the highest negative opinions about him of any athlete, according to Marketing Evaluations Inc., the research firm that does the "Q" ratings of public figures used by advertisers and broadcasters when deciding who they want to put on the air.

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While 25 percent of those surveyed last year had a positive opinion of him, 30 percent had a negative opinion. That is about twice as high as the average athlete and enough to scare off most advertisers.

"Endorsements are not going to be in his future unless an advertiser wants someone to stir emotion, create attention and notice for their brand, no matter if it's positive or negative," said said Harry Schafer, vice president of Marketing Evaluations.

There are advertisers who want an edgier, more controversial campaign to cut through the clutter. But those kinds of marketers tend to want to reach a younger, hipper audiences. A 62-year old athlete whose playing career ended before today's teens learned to walk is not a natural fit.

"It'd be one thing if he's 25 and filled a demographic niche," said Octagon's Schwab. "But the older the demographic you try to reach, the less risky you want to be."

Of course, Rose's endorsement portfolio is already down to zero.

His last deal, with athletic shoe make Pony, expired early last year. An executive there said that Rose had done a good job for the company, but it had decided to move away from celebrity endorsements.

Entertainment (general)

"I think Pete being associated with Pony helped the exposure of the brand, and that always helps sales," said David Baram, president of The Firm, which owns 40 percent of Pony. "We believed then that he belongs in the Hall, and we believe it even more so now."

Even casinos are going to shy away from someone who admits to having a gambling problem. So Rose had better hope that he makes good money from his book and from his memorabilia business (which could see some lift from the renewed attention).

The doors of Cooperstown may one day open to Pete Rose. But the odds are stacked against him seeing any more endorsement dollars.  Top of page

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