As Oscar Wilde wrote, "There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."
Woods has been in the news a lot this year, much more so for his off-course personal life than for his accomplishments on the course. The latter have been few and far between in 2010, with Woods struggling to make the cut in some events and still without a victory. Although that hasn't cost him any endorsement deals with current partners, it hasn't helped his cause down the road when new deals might arise.
Kobe Bryant, who led the Los Angeles Lakers to their second consecutive NBA title in June, tied Woods in the Harris Poll as "America's favorite sports star," the first time he has been atop that survey. Bryant, in fact, is the poster athlete for coming back from adversity, having nearly wrecked his personal and professional life in 2003 when he was accused of sexual assault (the case ultimately was resolved out of court).
Bryant saw his annual endorsement income drop from about $50 million to under $15 million, but he now tops $25 million. That foreshadowed Woods' situation, which saw him lose deals with Accenture, AT&T and PepsiCo's Gatorade, costing him about $30 million in annual endorsement income.
Given the situation throughout sports in which big names such as Alex Rodriguez and Lance Armstrong are constantly linked to drug accusations, marketers have been scrambling to find the right marriage of sports stars and products to present to the public. Based on the Harris Poll, the public likes Woods, Bryant, Derek Jeter (New York Yankees) and NFL quarterbacks Brett Favre and Peyton Manning as their top five.
However, the athlete with the biggest upside appears to be Drew Brees, MVP quarterback of the Super Bowl XLIV champion New Orleans Saints. Brees has been in the NFL since 2001 and is a four-time Pro Bowl player, but it took the Super Bowl to raise him to substantial national awareness.
He ranked ninth on the 2010 Harris Poll among favorite athletes, appearing for the first time in the top ten. He also ranked among the top five in the E-Poll Market Research June survey of best celebrity endorsers, which ranked athletes along with actors and actresses. His marketing agent is Chris Stuart of Encore Sports & Entertainment.
Brees has deals that include Nike, Pepsi, Unilever and Proctor & Gamble, moving him toward the $10 million annual endorsement level as he fast approaches Manning, whose $15 million annual endorsement income tops all NFL players. His book, Coming Back Stronger, debuted this month at No.3 on the New York Times best-seller list. He also: oversees with his wife Brittany the Brees Dream Foundation to advance cancer research; won a $100,000 grant from the Pepsi Refresh Project for Hope Lodge (to provide rooms for cancer patients and their caregivers); appears in a White House-driven PSA for physical fitness and a "Be the One" campaign urging the public to sign a petition for funding to restore the Gulf of Mexico, and has appeared at numerous events with son Baylen (the Brees are expecting another child this fall).
Perhaps the most telling indication of Brees' marketing potential: He will be the cover athlete for "Madden NFL 11" from EA Sports coming in August, a position that was determined for the first time by consumer voting sponsored by Doritos.
Observed Brees, "I'm honored to be the first cover athlete chosen by Madden NFL fans and it's a great way to cap off an amazing year for the Saints and the city of New Orleans."