What Brett Favre's Comeback Reveals About Sports Sponsorships

From a marketing standpoint, Brett Favre is back. His comeback reveals a lot about sports sponsorships.

Aug 10, 2014 at 10:26AM


Jame Healy, Flickr.

In his heyday, Brett Favre wasn't just one of the NFL's best players, he was also one of its most marketable. While he still owns a handful of all-time records, a major scandal hurt his relationship with fans and sponsors. But things on that front are now looking up. The Green Bay Packers have announced they will retire the QB's jersey and induct him into the team's Hall of Fame next summer. With critics jumping back on board, Favre's comeback reveals a lot about the world of sports sponsorships.

Favre's fall, and recovery
At his peak, Favre made somewhere between $7 million and $9 million per year from endorsements as a Packer, and later as a member of the Jets and Vikings. His sponsors ranged from MasterCard to Nike (NYSE:NKE) to Snapper to -- most famously -- VF Corporation's (NYSE:VFC) Wrangler jeans.

Sexting allegations in late 2010 changed all that. Seemingly overnight, the public began to doubt Favre's future as an endorsable athlete. "Why Brett Favre's Penis Pics Will Kill His Ad Deals...," CBS News wrote; "Favre's Photo Folly May Cost Him $100 Million," Forbes added. While Wrangler and Snapper ultimately stuck with Favre, polls show just 26% of Wisconsinites liked Favre at that time, PPP reports. He retired soon after. 

The immediate aftermath was what most expected: Less publicity, aside from the occasional update about his high school coaching career. According to Google Trends, web search interest in Favre fell by 87% between 2010 and 2012. But like Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, and other stars with scandals before, Favre's image has slowly recovered. 

Favre's approval rating in Wisconsin hit 50% last fall, according to PPP, and more visibly, his name has been linked to endorsements with pain cream Rx Pro, YOLO paddle boards, and Foot Locker. Favre's appearance in a Foot Locker ad, in particular, came while wearing Nike gear -- the video has more than 7 million views on YouTube. Millions more likely watched Favre analyze the Super Bowl this year, when he temporarily joined NFL Network's broadcast.

What's this tell us about the sponsorship world?
Favre's fall and subsequent recovery also illustrate a couple larger truths about the business of sports sponsorships. For one, it shows troubled athletes can regain their marketability. Woods is another example; Bryant, Michael Vick, and Michael Phelps are more.

Woods led all pro athletes with $55 million in endorsement income last season, according to Forbes, just four years after an enormous infidelity scandal. Bryant, meanwhile, is regularly among the NBA's highest earners, despite a high-profile sexual-assault allegation that caused multiple sponsors to drop him a decade ago.

And while Vick's 2007 dog-fighting conviction made him the NFL's most hated player, he's since signed on with Nike, along with a seven-figure deal from MusclePharm. Phelps, lastly, lost Kellogg's sponsorship during a marijuana controversy in 2009, but was named Forbes' fifth-most-influential athlete just two years later.

Less obviously, it also matters whether or not a scandal is performance-related. Favre, Woods, Vick, Phelps, and Bryant's were not. Disgraced athletes who haven't recovered, on the other hand, had problems that led many to directly question their athletic ability. Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, and Sammy Sosa are just a few examples. All three were among Forbes' highest-paid athletes a decade ago -- now they're endorsement pariahs.

Why companies stick with troubled athletes
Fans and sponsors forgive -- it just takes time. Still, that doesn't mean it's not a risk for companies to support disgraced stars. So why would a company choose to sign a Favre, Vick, or Bryant, rather than a player who's in the good graces of fans at that moment?

As Yahoo! Sports' Michael Jones explains, it's sometimes possible to spin scandal into a positive light if the circumstances are right. "Society enjoys an underdog story," he writes. "When athletes make mistakes, it humanizes them. Fans and casual onlookers alike enjoy contrition and thrive on humility. It could even be argued that overcoming challenges such as these can actually elevate the status of some sports figures."

In recent years, the most pertinent example of this was Nike's "Winning takes care of everything" ad, centered on Tiger Woods. The message essentially told fans, and Nike customers, to look past Woods' mistakes, and focus on his athletic dominance. 

Further, sponsors may also choose to hold onto a troubled athlete even if they don't turn his transgressions into a marketing opportunity. Just as some shareholders won't sell a stock after poor quarterly earnings, companies with millions invested in a star can choose to ride out bad press. It may simply be more expensive to find a replacement.

VF and Wrangler, for instance, chose to do so with Favre, maintaining a half-decade relationship. His latest TV spot, alongside the wholesome Drew Brees and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., shows the company is aware fans are beginning to forgive Favre. Phelps is another example -- Omega and Speedo shrugged off the swimmer's criticisms, but didn't exactly use his mistakes to sell their products.

Looking ahead
For Brett Favre, the main takeaway is this: Sponsors that stood by the QB are now vindicated. Looking ahead, he's likely set for more exposure on NFL Network, and other ad appearances are possible leading up to next summer's festivities at Lambeau Field. Given that Favre is eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016, another marketability boost is conceivable then, too.

And like others before him, Favre's comeback reveals fans will forgive scandalous stars if the circumstances are right. In the future, when sports sponsors are deciding whether or not to drop a client, they should ask: Does the issue force fans to question the athlete's performance? If not, it may be worth sticking around.

Leaked: Apple's next smart device (warning, it may shock you)
Apple recently recruited a secret-development "dream team" to guarantee its newest smart device was kept hidden from the public for as long as possible. But the secret is out, and some early viewers are claiming its everyday impact could trump the iPod, iPhone, and the iPad. In fact, ABI Research predicts 485 million of this type of device will be sold per year. But one small company makes Apple's gadget possible. And its stock price has nearly unlimited room to run for early-in-the-know investors. To be one of them, and see Apple's newest smart gizmo, just click here!

Jake Mann has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Nike. The Motley Fool owns shares of Nike. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

1 Key Step to Get Rich

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better. Whether that’s helping people overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we can help.

Feb 1, 2016 at 4:54PM

To be perfectly clear, this is not a get-rich action that my Foolish colleagues and I came up with. But we wouldn't argue with the approach.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich" rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

"The Motley Fool aims to build a strong investment community, which it does by providing a variety of resources: the website, books, a newspaper column, a radio [show], and [newsletters]," wrote (the clearly insightful and talented) money reporter Kathleen Elkins. "This site has something for every type of investor, from basic lessons for beginners to investing commentary on mutual funds, stock sectors, and value for the more advanced."

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better, so it's nice to receive that kind of recognition. It lets us know we're doing our job.

Whether that's helping the entirely uninitiated overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we want to provide our readers with a boost to the next step on their journey to financial independence.

Articles and beyond

As Business Insider wrote, there are a number of resources available from the Fool for investors of all levels and styles.

In addition to the dozens of free articles we publish every day on our website, I want to highlight two must-see spots in your tour of fool.com.

For the beginning investor

Investing can seem like a Big Deal to those who have yet to buy their first stock. Many investment professionals try to infuse the conversation with jargon in order to deter individual investors from tackling it on their own (and to justify their often sky-high fees).

But the individual investor can beat the market. The real secret to investing is that it doesn't take tons of money, endless hours, or super-secret formulas that only experts possess.

That's why we created a best-selling guide that walks investors-to-be through everything they need to know to get started. And because we're so dedicated to our mission, we've made that available for free.

If you're just starting out (or want to help out someone who is), go to www.fool.com/beginners, drop in your email address, and you'll be able to instantly access the quick-read guide ... for free.

For the listener

Whether it's on the stationary exercise bike or during my daily commute, I spend a lot of time going nowhere. But I've found a way to make that time benefit me.

The Motley Fool offers five podcasts that I refer to as "binge-worthy financial information."

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. It's also featured on several dozen radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable ... and I don't say that simply because the hosts all sit within a Nerf-gun shot of my desk. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers contain timeless advice, so you might want to go back to the beginning with those. The other three take their cues from the market, so you'll want to listen to the most recent first. All are available at www.fool.com/podcasts.

But wait, there's more

The book and the podcasts – both free ... both awesome – also come with an ongoing benefit. If you download the book, or if you enter your email address in the magical box at the podcasts page, you'll get ongoing market coverage sent straight to your inbox.

Investor Insights is valuable and enjoyable coverage of everything from macroeconomic events to investing strategies to our analyst's travels around the world to find the next big thing. Also free.

Get the book. Listen to a podcast. Sign up for Investor Insights. I'm not saying that any of those things will make you rich ... but Business Insider seems to think so.

Compare Brokers