- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 12, 2005

So you think Roger Federer was the world’s best athlete in 2005? Wanna bet?

Sportsbook.com, a London-based sports gambling Web site, has posted odds on who will be chosen as Sports Illustrated’s 2005 Sportsman of the Year, and so far the Swiss tennis player is considered the favorite.

Federer, who won two Grand Slam tournaments and has lost just three matches all year, is given 11-2 odds to win, just ahead of cycling’s Lance Armstrong and golfer Tiger Woods.

The winner will be announced Dec. 9 during an HBO television special, then will appear on the cover of the magazine’s next issue.

“These three really stand above the rest both in their sports and beyond,” said Alex Czajkowski, marketing director for Sportsbook.com.

In the past, Sports Illustrated has chosen winners from all over the athletic landscape, though the magazine appears to choose based on a combination of an athlete’s success and ability to grab headlines. For instance, Cal Ripken Jr. won in 1995 after breaking Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played, and Tiger Woods won in 1996 after turning professional and winning his first tournament.

“I certainly think that beyond being a great athlete, there has to be a great story,” said Alan Zucker, senior vice president of athletic marketing for IMG, the world’s largest sports marketing company. Zucker declined to comment on the chances of Federer because he is an IMG client.

Sports Illustrated historically has not shied away from giving the honor to an entire team or teammates. Baseball sluggers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa shared the honor in 1998, following their epic battle for the home run title. Last year the magazine recognized the Boston Red Sox for winning their first World Series in 86 years.

This year’s World Series champs, the Chicago White Sox, are given 12-1 odds, placing them among the favorites. Other teams given consideration include the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints. Sportsbook.com is also giving White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen 35-1 odds.

Sports marketing experts said there is likely some campaigning on behalf of some athletes to win the honor. Sports Illustrated has more than 3 million subscribers, and a front-page feature coupled with television and Internet coverage can provide more exposure than nearly any advertising campaign.

“I will tell you its the gold standard of credibility in the sports world,” Zucker said.

Paul Herschell, director of Sports Unlimited, a sports marketing company in Portland, Ore., said an appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated is probably worth “about 15 to 20 times the premium advertising rate.”

He said these types of honors are generally bigger moneymakers for younger athletes who have yet to reach their peak. For instance, USC senior quarterback Matt Leinart, whose odds of winning are listed at 8-1, could use the exposure as leverage when he looks at endorsement deals after his time in college is up. The impact for Armstrong, however, would be much more limited because he is retired and was showered with plenty of similar honors during his cycling career.

Federer would be one of only a handful of non-Americans to win the honor and the first since Sosa in 1998. Woods and Armstrong are both given 6-1 odds, and each has won the award twice before.

The Web site suggests Sports Illustrated could select a nonathlete to win the award. It is giving the U.S. Congress 15-1 odds based on its efforts to combat steroid use in sports and 45-1 odds to the World Series of Poker.

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