The next 'next Jordan'
Dwyane Wade's play in the NBA finals drew a lot of comparisons to all-time great Michael Jordan; his off-court endorsement potential is worthy of comparison as well.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - There have been more than 500 news stories in the last month alone that have mentioned both the names "Dwyane Wade" and "Michael Jordan."
It's a comparison that even the Chicago-born Wade admits is a bit ridiculous, especially after only his first championship.
"I'm not Michael Jordan, I never will be Michael Jordan, and Lord knows I don't want to be Michael Jordan," Wade said this week at a New York press conference to talk about his NBA Finals MVP award. Wade's team, the Miami Heat, defeated the Dallas Mavericks Tuesday to win the NBA title.
Wade's off-court performance places him even farther behind Jordan. He has only a few major endorsement deals, and he has a way to go before he can even be compared to the best compensated endorser on his own team (that would be Shaquille O'Neal) or in his draft class (LeBron James was signing 10-figure deals while still in high school.)
But some think Wade could be the "next" Jordan on Madison Avenue as well as the basketball court.
"I would say there's nobody out there right now who looks as promising as Wade," said Bob Dorfman, the author of the Sports Marketing Scouting Report, which tracks athlete endorsements.
It appears that Wade has already helped the relatively low profile Converse, which is now owned by powerhouse Nike (Charts). Wade signed a three-year deal with the sneaker maker after being drafted by the Heat in 2003 that was renegotiated into a long-term deal last year after his star began to rise during the 2005 playoffs. Neither Thomas nor Converse are disclosing the amount, but its still trails LeBron's $90 million deal with Nike by a large amount.
SportsScanInfo, which tracks sales at many sporting goods stores, estimates that Converse's year-to-date basketball sneaker sales are up 82 percent over the same period a year ago, albeit from a small base. Converse's market share is only 3.3 percent.
And now that Nike owns Converse, Wade has more marketing muscle behind him than he and his agent could have hoped for when they first signed with Converse. Nike agreed to buy Converse a month after Wade was drafted.
"Shoe companies can do a lot to help an athlete's marketability," said Jeff Chown, president of Davie-Brown Talent, which negotiates endorsement deals for advertisers.
But Wade has done more than help sell shoes.
His jersey was the top seller in the NBA this year, even before his recent playoff success. He's also on the cover of the NBA Live 2006 video game from EA Sports (Charts) , and it doesn't hurt his endorsement potential that he's made People magazine's list of 50 most beautiful people in 2005.
He currently appears in Gatorade's "Big Head" commercial with other top athletes such as baseball star Derek Jeter and football player Peyton Manning. The commercial has gotten a lot of buzz since the athletes' heads are superimposed on the bodies of kids playing different sports. Wade's line in the spot, "All day baby, all day" has become the signature line for the ad and for Wade.
Gatorade says Wade's appeal is what makes that work. "It seems to fit so well with his personality," said Tom Fox, Gatorade's senior vice president of sports and event marketing. "Until we saw the ad, we didn't have any idea that would be the big line. You can't plan good marketing like that."
Before he helped his team win the NBA championship, Wade was known by just less than half of sports fans surveyed this March by Marketing Evaluations, which compiles the Q scores advertisers look at when trying to pick possible celebrity sponsors. But it seems safe to say that Wade will be more well-known by the time the next Q scores are compiled.
Wade will soon be on the cover of Wheaties cereal boxes, along with O'Neal. And Henry Thomas, Wade's agent, said he was already seeing a lot of interest in his client even before his performance in the finals.
Experts in the field said that while LeBron still has a serious lead in terms of endorsements, it might not take long for Wade to close the gap with his friend.
"He communicates well off the court, has a squeaky clean image," said Paul Swangard, a University of Oregon marketing professor. "He's certainly carrying as much momentum as we've seen since LeBron."
Thomas said it is still premature to compare Wade to Jordan, the all-time king of athlete endorsers. But he admits he is surprised by how fast Wade has become this hot.
"He's won only one championship," said Thomas. "But I will say, the capability, the possibility of him developing into something close to [Jordan's] level is there."
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