IMG exec calls Ovechkin a "global icon"
IMG Worldwide has a few people you might have heard of in their client portfolio--Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova, Giselle Bundchen, Heidi Klum and Peyton and Eli Manning, for example. Until this week, though, the sports media and entertainment company wasn't in the hockey business, although they used to represent Wayne Gretzky, Jaromir Jagr and several dozen other players.
So, does today's news that the agency will be handling marketing, sponsorship and licensing for Alex Ovechkin signal a return to hockey?
"This is really about Alex as an individual that has the ability to transcend his sport and be successful in the commercial arena," David Abrutyn, IMG's Senior Vice President and Managing Director of Global Consulting told me Monday afternoon. "We're committed to Alex, and not much beyond that at this point."
That's a pretty nice leap from the days when Ovie got a trim at the Hair Cuttery and then got his face on Metro buses touting cost-effective haircuts. Not that there's anything wrong with Hair Cuttery deals, by any means, but the plans seem a bit grander now.
"I just think from an IMG perspective, we've got a very long and distinct track record of working with global icons," Abrutyn said. "Clearly he's one of if not the most exciting players in today's game. The way that he plays, with sort of the energy and passion and excitement, when brand marketers are looking to align themselves with athletes or talent to cut through the very crowded marketing arena, those are things from an image standpoint that will translate very clearly. Alex's passion and excitement are gonna be difference-makers for him and difference-makers for those companies that we align him with."
What sort of companies? Well, obviously Ovechkin already has a growing portfolio of sponsors, which has included Energizer, CCM and his own brand of apparel.
"But beyond that he's relatively clean," Abrutyn said. "If you look at the types of companies that align themselves with talent, its usually ones that are consumer electronics companies, beverages, either traditional or energy drinks. I think the restaurant category has been a big user of athletes, and I think we'll look to establish him with companies that not only have a U.S. presence or a Canadian presence, but a global presence, given his status in the world."
Abrutyn mentioned Ovechkin in the same breath as Gretzky and Lemieux, though he said that his off-ice success will demand continued on-ice excellence, and, to reach the ultimate levels, world and international championships. His language skills wouldn't be an issue, he said, and could even be a strength.
"Look, Alex came to this country four years ago and spoke very little English, and he's clearly dedicating himself to becoming more and more proficient at it," Abrutyn said. "That's a part of what makes him who he is. Brand marketers can use that to their advantage in some respects, and as he gets more and more proficient, even more so....Brand marketers can be very creative at turning something like this into a positive. His commitment to learning the language is another reason he's going to be successful in his off-ice endeavors...."
"From a marketing standpoint, we believe in aligning ourselves with global superstars, and Alex is certainly one of them. So this is as much about Alex's ability as a marketer and a product mover as it is a hockey player."
Not too many other global superstars operating in the D.C. sports landscape at the moment.
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