MKTG Insights: Our Favorite Things of 2014 - Rising Endorsers
2014 was a landmark year for sponsorship marketers. Globally, large-scale games like the Sochi Winter Olympics and the FIFA World Cup contributed to record investment and brand activity. Here at home, Canadian sponsors continue to raise the bar through greater sophistication and creative programming. 2014 taught us that while the health of our industry is strong, the landscape is becoming increasingly competitive and complex. Rights fees are rising, technology is enabling brands to push the envelope on activations and more than ever before sponsors are being casted as the moral arbiter in moments of scandal, facing pressure to leverage their financial influence into action. As the year has drawn to a close, MKTG has been using our weekly Friday Insights blog to provide analysis on the year that was in sponsorship. We hope that you not only find these collections informative and educational but that you engage with us. Was there something we missed? Disagree with one of our picks? Let us know by emailing us at email@example.com or tweeting us @SESponsorship!
Last week, MKTG presented our favourite sponsorship deals from the last year. The fourth and final installment of our "Favorite Things" blog series will look at the endorsers whose stock rose significantly in 2014.
1. J.J. Watt, Houston Texans, NFL:
In a year when the NFL faced some early season dents in the shield due to scandal with some of its brightest stars, JJ Watt was a breath of fresh air. In addition to being dominant on the field for the Houston Texans, Watt's clean image and passion for philanthropy has made him a staple in the NFL's marketing. In addition to appearing in content promoting the NFL's Play 60 initiative and NFL Shop gear, Watt is being tapped by corporate sponsors seeking to benefit from the brand halo around him. Watt currently has endorsement deals with Nike, Gatorade, Ford Trucks, H-E-B, Papa John's Pizza, Yahoo Fantasy Football, and Verizon. Historically, any list of the NFL's upper-tier of marketable players has been dominated by quarterbacks and elite offensive players. Watt, along with his defensive counterparts Clay Matthews and Richard Sherman, have got sponsors cheering DEFENCE! DEFENCE!
2. Rory McIlroy, PGA Tour:
The endorsement landscape in golf has undergone a paradigm shift in recent years. While the PGA Tour was previously, in many respects, dependant on Tiger Woods to grow and sustain their brand, a youth movement has emerged in the game that has led to democratization of stardom. Leading that movement is current world #1 Rory McIlroy. In 2014, the torch was passed to McIlroy who has undoubtedly become the game's biggest global star. In the past year, Rory won two major tournaments and swept all major awards. McIlroy's Nike contract is reportedly worth approximately $200 million - a contract that was validated this year with Rory's success. Intense but likeable, McIlroy's brand is arguably more approachable than Tiger's. Rory also acts as a brand ambassador for Bose, Omega, and Santander.
3. P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens, NHL
Subban is often described by the Canadian hockey media as "polarizing". For corporate sponsors, however, his appeal is certain. As the face of hockey in one of the NHL's most important markets, Subban has reach and relevance from coast to coast. The Canadian marketplace celebrates hockey players for being humble and deflecting attention, often manifesting in guarded personalities and cliché-filled interviews. However, Subban challenges conventions on how a hockey player should talk and act. He is fiery, passionate, articulate and has carved out a unique brand position against many of Hockey's brightest stars. In 2014, Subban was named to Canada's Olympic Team in Sochi, was among the leaders in NHL scoring amongst defensemen, was a vital part of another long Canadiens playoff run and signed a long-term contract with the Canadiens. Subban represents a number of leading brands such as RBC, Boston Pizza, Hyundai, Unilever (Degree) and Nike. Subban’s explosive personality is clearly winning with sponsors.
4. Eugenie Bouchard, WTA
In 2014, Genie Bouchard evolved from a Canadian tennis phenom to an emerging global superstar with mass appeal. While Bouchard struggled in the back half of 2014, earlier in the year, she burst onto the scene with a 2nd place finish at Wimbledon and semi-final appearances in both the Australian and French Open. Bouchard is early in her athlete life-cycle and will benefit in coming years from the emerging parity in the women's game (an element lacking in the ATP where Nadal, Djokovic, and Federer have monopolized major tournament titles). Bilingual and candid, Bouchard is a fan favourite in the market of all Tennis' Grand Slam tournaments. Smaller Canadian brands like Pinty's have benefited from early adoption of Bouchard, however as her star rises, the investment range required to partner with Bouchard may price out challenger brands. Bouchard's new representation at WME-IMG are likely to make fashion a point of emphasis in 2015 with a new Nike deal and her own apparel line being speculated as priorities beyond the court.
5. Blake Shelton, Country Music Star / Judge on "The Voice"
While Shelton was identified as a household name strictly within country music circles prior to his time on "The Voice", his presence on one of television's most popular shows has helped him establish crossover appeal with mainstream audiences. Shelton has taken on a major role within the endorsement roster of Pepsi and Pizza Hut. Shelton - along with Katy Perry - is the face of Pepsi's "get Hype for Halftime" campaign to build marketplace excitement for their sponsorship of the Super Bowl Halftime show. Last year, Shelton was named as the most effective male musician endorser by Repucom - a status unlikely to change in the coming year.
6. Dufour-Lapointe Sisters, Moguls, Canadian Olympic Team
Each Olympic cycle gives birth to a new crop of superstars. At Sochi 2014, the Dufour-Lapointe sisters – Justine (Gold), Chloe (Silver), and Maxine (12th)- who all competed in the Freestyle Moguls event captured the hearts of fans and the eyes of marketers across Canada. Pundits called their performance at the games the “Million Dollar Mogul Run” due to the platform they were projected to receive post-Sochi. The constant challenge for Olympians is to maintain their momentum post the podium. Skiing does not receive mainstream year-round attention in Canada, however, these sisters have managed to attract brand partners. They have participated in brand activations for Volkswagen and Hudson's Bay, launched a clothing line with Aldo, and resigned a deal with Saputo that will feature the Milk2Go brand on all of their gear. Olympic athletes present brands with the unique opportunity to wrap themselves in a Canadian flag and align themselves with a brand ambassador that is relevant not only in select markets, but nationally. The Dufour-Lapointe's have something extra special - a unique family-first narrative that is appealing to sponsors who are targeting Mom & Dad.
7. Neymar, Brazilian National Team & FC Barcelona
While the 2014 FIFA World Cup may not have gone as planned for hometown Brazilian fans (the Brazilian National Team was dominated in the semi-finals by eventual winner Germany), their star player and striker Neymar became a household fixture for casual soccer fans around the world. As the face of the host country, Neymar attracted investment from a number of Tier-1 corporate sponsors in anticipation for the World Cup. Off the pitch, Neymar earns $16 million in endorsement income, trailing only global soccer superstars Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo. His list of brand partners includes Nike, Beats by Dre, Panasonic, L'Oreal and others. Additionally, Neymar has partnered with eBay and Brazilian NGO Waves for Water to bring clean drinking water to impoverished communities. Neymar was eliminated from competition in a quarter-final match against Columbia this summer at the World Cup due to injury. In response, Neymar released a tearful video addressed to Brazilians apologizing for his injury and offering support to his teammates that went on to be watched millions of times on YouTube. The best is yet to come both on and off the pitch for this 22 year-old global superstar.
8. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks, NFL
The starting Quarterback for the Super Bowl winning Seattle Seahawks turned his championship moment into endorsement gold in 2014. Signed to the Seahawks on a rookie contract for a bargain $600,000, Wilson is often considered one the NFL's most underpaid players. In spite of that status, Wilson has turned to marketing partnerships as a mechanism to bolster his income and build a national brand. Wilson's clean image and on-field success have led to a vast array of endorsement opportunities. Wilson has become the face of Bose's new sponsorship of the NFL, in addition to appearing in advertisements for brands like Microsoft, Nike, American Family Insurance, Duracell, Braun, Alaska Airlines and others. While Wilson does not quite hold awareness levels of the upper-echelon of NFL quarterbacks (Manning/Brady/Brees/Rodgers), according to Q Score experts, he rivals them in consumer appeal. With Seattle primed to make yet another playoff run into 2015, Wilson's marketability is likely to only increase.
9. Jim Parsons, Actor, The Big Bang Theory
After appearing in creative for Nissan Canada in 2013, Parsons upped his endorsement presence in 2014 through an ambassador role for Intel. As an Emmy-award winning actor on TV's most watched sitcom, The Big Bang Theory, Parsons has strong relevance throughout North America and is likely to be effective in repositioning the Intel brand in a consumer-friendly way. Earlier this year, The Wrap released “Q-score” rankings for Fall television male actors. The rankings are a measure of exposure and likeability and can act as an effective predictor of not just viewer commitment on a given television show, but the clout of certain personalities in their individual endorsement activity. Parsons was ranked second among all stars. This fall Parsons was dubbed "America's Favorite Nerd" by Ad Week. Despite the fact that the Big Bang Theory was shut out at the most recent Emmy's, his unique brand personality and uncluttered sponsor roster is likely to lead to more sponsorship opportunities in 2015.
10. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors, NBA
Steph Curry currently has the Golden State Warriors sitting atop the NBA with the best win-loss record in the league and is hovering among the league leaders in both points per game and assists per game. His dominant year is paying dividends for brands that chose to invest in the sharpshooting Point Guard. Last year, Curry made the decision to leave Nike's large roster of athletes and become the face of Under Armour's basketball strategy. The move has provided Curry with a more prominent brand-building opportunity with an organization that shares his underdog narrative. Other sponsors of Curry include Degree deodorant, Muscle Milk, State Farm, MoGo, and others. A deep playoff run for the Warriors will help further cement Curry's status as a national figure with mass awareness.