- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Many of basketball’s top stars have a Final Four appearance etched into their legacies, but when it comes to the endorsement game, college basketball’s biggest stage might offer only little help when players enter the NBA.

A glance at some of the NBA’s most marketable players suggests a Final Four appearance is no more helpful than any other quality that makes an athlete worthy of an endorsement deal. For every player that boosted his profile through a deep tournament run, there are players with equal marketing cache who never cut down a net at the college level.

“There’s no direct correlation,” said Scott Sanford, senior talent director at Davie Brown Talent, a Dallas-based firm that matches companies with endorsers. “The big impact a player can get from the Final Four or the NCAA tournament will be with the immediate marketing opportunities, which most rookies get anyway.”

Advertisers said a Final Four can make a player more attractive as a potential endorser, but that it’s only one small part of a player’s resume.

“For the most part, we know the players we want to bring into a partnership,” said Travis Gonzolez, a spokesman for Adidas, which has deals with a host of NBA players including the Washington Wizards’ Gilbert Arenas, a 2001 Final Four participant. “What the Final Four does is continue to elevate that player and keep his name around and fresh until [the NBA Draft].”

Davie Brown’s list of the top 10 most marketable active NBA players includes just three players who played in a Final Four: Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade, Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony and New Jersey Nets forward Vince Carter. Others on the list include Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, Houston Rockets center Yao Ming, Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker and Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett, none of whom ever appeared in a college game, let alone the Final Four.

This year’s NCAA tournament featured two of the most notable college players in years in Texas forward Kevin Durant and Ohio State center Greg Oden. Durant’s team fizzled in the second round, while Oden is preparing for a national semifinal game Saturday against Georgetown. But it is Durant, Sanford said, who is more likely to cash in on endorsements because he is a more prolific scorer and plays a position seen as more exciting to advertisers.

Sanford acknowledges Oden could boost his marketing potential if Ohio State continues to win, but he does not see the Final Four doing much for anyone else.

“Maybe [Florida forward Joakim Noah], because he’s got that different aura to him, and he’s probably one of the most recognizable guys on that team,” Sanford said. “He’ll probably be a lottery pick or at least a top-20 pick. But even so, I think it would take another victory for him to do a lot of damage in the marketing world.”

A Final Four run has been known to boost players’ stock in the NBA Draft, which in turn can lead to more marketing opportunities. Anthony was highly touted, but still relatively unknown before leading Syracuse to the national championship in 2003. The Nuggets drafted him with the third overall pick; he is now one of the most sought-after players in the league, with deals involving Nike and EA Sports, among others.

“Everyone knows Syracuse, but outside [the Big East] I don’t think a lot of people saw him play,” said Ray Artigue, a former marketing director with the Phoenix Suns and executive director of the W.P. Carey Sports Business MBA Program at Arizona State. “That had to increase his marketability.

“For many young athletes, it’s the first time they’ve been seen outside their local market or broadcast area. Certainly, that’s not the case for Oden and players like that, but whether they are known or not, this is a national stage they’re performing on and it allows them to do some things to increase their worth.”

But national attention and high draft status doesn’t necessarily translate into endorsements right away. It took several years before Arenas became a hot endorsement property, for instance. Seattle SuperSonics forward Chris Wilcox was the eighth overall pick after helping Maryland to the national championship in 2002 but has failed to become one of the NBA’s marketing stars. Atlanta Hawks forward Marvin Williams was the second pick in the 2005 draft after helping North Carolina to the national championship but is not yet a hot property among advertisers.

“Without [the NCAA championship], Carmelo’s not the No. 3 pick and he’s not getting the deals he got,” Sanford said. “But that doesn’t mean success in the tournament will automatically mean you get deals.”

The case of Wade might underscore how pro success ultimately determines a player’s worth in the eyes of advertisers. Wade led Marquette to the Final Four in 2003, but did not rank among the most marketable NBA players until this year, after the Heat won the 2006 NBA Finals.

“I would say [the Final Four] played a minor role,” said Molly Carter, director of sports communication for Converse, which has an exclusive deal with Wade. “It definitely put him on a more national stage. It definitely put him on the radar, but I don’t think it was a make or break thing. From what Dwyane has said to me and publicly is that companies weren’t banging down his door [after the draft].”

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