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Soccer's Commercial Absence

Seeing this awful, low-budget Braylon Edwards commercial again the other day reminded me of how no American soccer players appear in mainstream TV ads. Years ago, Paul Caligiuri pitched shampoo and Mia Hamm endorsed a variety of products. More recently, Freddy Adu appeared in soup commercials.

But these days, other than ads geared toward the soccer audience -- Dick's Sporting Goods spots during MLS matches, for instance -- U.S. players (men or women) have little or no presence in the promotions business.

Golfing great Tiger Woods endorses everything from cars to clothes and telegenic tennis star Maria Sharapova has teamed with her little dog to pitch cameras. Even skier Lindsey Vonn and golfer Paula Creamer -- not exactly household names -- sell cold medicine and watches, respectively.

We've seen French soccer player Thierry Henry, who is unfamiliar to most Americans, join Woods and tennis champion Roger Federer in Gillette ads. But U.S. soccer does not have a single figure who transcends the sport and appeals to Madison Avenue.

What do you think it is going to take for an American soccer player to re-enter the mainstream commercial industry?

By Steve Goff  |  January 13, 2009; 12:10 PM ET
Categories:  TV , U.S. men's national team  
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If the USMNT can go far, or claim a major scalp in the Confed or better yet World Cup then perhaps one of its start players, the mastermind, the work horse (the one who was key in downing the giant) would get tossed a commercial bone. Sort'a like how mid-tier to no-name Olympians who bring back a gold medal or win a medal of some sort from an underdog position get some commercial love. We love underdogs, especially the kinds that spank the well known Goliaths of the world. The USMNT are underdogs so all they need to do is make the miracle happen and step it up.

On the women's side? I say we need a dominant force to emerge from a successful WNT side that also becomes a household name in the WPS. Consecutive wins of the World Player of the Year award won't hurt either.

Soccer is a team sport, and the US plays it that way. Literally. We don't have a Messi, Kaka, Lampard or David Villa that can and will single handedly change a game or force an outcome. It's harder in my opinion to have a team endorse something than it is a team leader. Like Mike, Labron, Kobe, Backham. We had that in Mia Hamm, but have not had that dominant character in the soccer world since. Hype does not and should never count!

That's my 2 tears in a bucket!

Posted by: Kosh2 | January 13, 2009 12:33 PM | Report abuse

5-Hour Energy Drink. For when you need to run 5 second intervals for a total of 5 minutes over the course of 3 hours. At least he doesn't look as if the drink contains steroids.

But Steve, Steve, Steve. How could you forget theUnder Armor ads starring Heather Mitts.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | January 13, 2009 12:37 PM | Report abuse

Several people I know would like to *be* Sharapova's dog, but that's another matter.

The answer is simple - soccer has to produce or acquire a true star, a la Beckham or Adu, someone whose notoriety is not wholly due to soccer.

Jimmy Conrad won't sell stuff based on his soccer skills, nor will Bobby Boswell, etc. We have to find a player / some players who get to the next level, where they become known beyond the core soccer fan level, in order for them to be marketable in the way suggested by this post.

Perhaps Dempsey can rap his way into a commercial...or cut to the chase, go international, and have Christiano Ronaldo start shilling for a local driving school...

Posted by: 22206no1 | January 13, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Anyone notice how Thierry Henry has been replaced on the Gillete commercials by Derek Jeter? Guess they're making US versions now. Shame - seeing Henry in commercials over here was kind of neat.

Posted by: Kev29 | January 13, 2009 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Landon Donovan was in a Nike commercial that ran extensively at the start of 2008. However, he was one of many athletes featured during the spot.


Posted by: hoyanick1 | January 13, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Sportscenter - when MLS or the USA guys get on Sportscenter and people appreciate their athleticism or their accomplishment. Until then, we'll always be Bristol, CT and New York, NY and LA B and C Squad.

Posted by: VirginiaBlueBlood | January 13, 2009 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Someone on the nats needs to grow out luxurious hair. Caligiuri was certainly not recognizable to any mainstream audience, but if you threw "Defender - US National Team" under his name it didn't really matter. People knew he was some soccer guy with fancy hair (later, David Ginola did L'Oreal commercials, and he was even less palatable to US audiences; he was some French soccer guy with fancy hair).

That's the key: fancy hair. Unfortunately, the current crop of 1st choice US players go with either the shaved head, something ordered with a number lower than 4, or are balding early like Donovan. There is nothing fancy about any of this. Much like our pragmatic style of play, the haircuts are strictly utilitarian. Maybe Bocanegra could do an ad for some kind of gel or pomade, but he's as fancy as it gets. I guess there is Kljestan, but his emo cut probably doesn't appeal to the hair care elite.

Dating someone famous would help. Unfortunately, LA's players all either suck or are married. Sean Franklin is the only hope with regards to an MLS player with any national team hopes dating an actress. Unfortunately, it must be pointed out that he doesn't really have fancy hair either (mohawks having been killed off as a notable hairstyle some time ago).

On the WNT side, this should be easier. There are attractive women on the team and WPS is about to launch. If I know anything about advertising (and my focus solely on hair care commercials should indicate that I don't), it's that attractive female athletes have to try awfully hard to avoid being in a commercial. I'd be surprised to not see a WPS sponsor put someone like Hope Solo (who still has some name recognition from the Olympic controversy)or Heather Mitts into a national ad for something.

Posted by: Chest_Rockwell | January 13, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

I have a few ideas...
For United:
Ben Olsen: shaving cream
Marcelo Gallardo: United flights to Germany
Devon McTavish: Winchester Jiffy Lube (radio spots limited to WINC-FM)
Tino: Eastern Motors

Landon Donovan: Rogaine
Gooch: Gold's Gym
Frankie Hejduk: any pharmaceutical company
Marcus Hahnemann: Bic razors
Tim Howard: All State (you're in good hands...)

Posted by: joedoc1 | January 13, 2009 12:56 PM | Report abuse

FWIW, Mia has been in some of the recent "G" (gatoraide) ads....

Posted by: Becks_for_prez | January 13, 2009 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Can Obama play soccer?

Posted by: DonDraper | January 13, 2009 1:02 PM | Report abuse

I swear if they had some ads like the Nike football ads they air in Europe, Americans would be interested. I don't know how excited the company would be to do ads like that with American players but I think it could be effective.

Posted by: -Niv- | January 13, 2009 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Landon Donovan was in a Nike commercial that ran extensively at the start of 2008. However, he was one of many athletes featured during the spot.


Posted by: hoyanick1 | January 13, 2009 12:42 PM

Just looking at that clip, I think Abby Wambach was in it too. It was brief, but I'm pretty sure it was her.

Posted by: HarkesyRules | January 13, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Hope Solo was in it too, if I remember right.

Posted by: Juan-John | January 13, 2009 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: dfunkt | January 13, 2009 1:47 PM | Report abuse

if they would have gotten those ben olsen VW ads with "deb" onto tv, i'm pretty sure that would have taken soccer in america to a whole new level.

Posted by: stairs | January 13, 2009 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Just a few thoughts:

1. With the economy in its current state, i think celebrity endorsements may be among the 1st cuts from of marketing/advertising budgets... there may be more bang for the buck with other forms of advertising at this point... i would also think that any endorsement contracts which are being penned at this time would likely be less lucrative to the endorser than they have been in the past or simply not re-newed...

2. I think it highly unlikely for a U.S. Soccer Player to be used in an endorsement campaign until soccer has a little more prominence in the U.S.... at this point, even if the U.S. had a super-star, soccer's appeal is not (yet) broad enough to use within a campaign... additionally, a campaign targeted at the hispanic demographic would (likely) rather use a foreign "star before using an U.S. "star"... campaigns targeted at kids or families (likely) have other "stars" with broader appeal outside of the sports world...

I think the best shot (in the near term) for a U.S. Player to get exposure through an ad campaign lies abroad... that is, i think it's far more likely for a U.S. Player to become a "star" and appear on foreign ad campaigns than for any U.S. Player to appear on a campaign in the U.S....

Posted by: DaniCrew | January 13, 2009 1:58 PM | Report abuse

We need for our best player not to be a bald, skinny guy with a fivehead.

Posted by: CowtownFCD | January 13, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Landon could have been that person. Granted, he does get into an ad here and there. But he just doesn't have the personality to be a pitchman. Every time he talks, whether in an interview or in a "You're watching Fox Soccer Channel" promo plug, I start to nod off....

Posted by: DWE4 | January 13, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Seems that the athletes (regardless of sport) have one of a two things in common...

1) transcendent talent/accomplishments (e.g., Tiger, Federer, Peyton Manning, Mia Hamm, Jordan, Shawn White, Tony Hawk)
2) great looks (e.g., Sharapova, Patrick)

...combined with some level likability on as a pitch person. No transcendent players wearing Red, White, and Blue for either the mens or womens team right now (some very good on the womens but no one at the Hamm/Marta level really).

As for being exceptionally attractive, Heather Mitts seems to have come and gone as a popular face for advertisers and there aren't too many others out there who demand media attention either by their accomplishments or their attractiveness. Freddy likely got some traction based on his potential to be a transcendent talent but until he realizes it, few are likely to be interested.

I doubt it's much of a snub on soccer so much as a down cycle for interesting individuals in US Soccer. It won't change until there's an accomplishment that merits it or someone really hot emerges from the junior ranks.

Posted by: nealjthurman | January 13, 2009 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Was the Caligiuri ad around the time of WC '94? Regardless of his personal fame (which I think was probably less than Donovan and certainly Adu), it would be attractive as an advertiser to ride the coattails of a massive international marketing machine like the kind that gets mobilised for a WC.

So bring the WC to the US in '18 and some US players will get ad contracts. OR win the WC, or star in Europe. But if a player is individually successful in marketing, it doesn't mean others will necessarily follow.

Look at Lance Armstrong and cycling - LA is STILL golden, but who knows Frankie Andreu? Christian Van de Velde? Freddy Rodriguez? In other words, any American pro road cyclist besides Greg Lemond and LA?

Posted by: Modibo | January 13, 2009 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Until American mainstream can see that the soccer is more challenging to play then throwing a odd shaped ball and catching with covering up with ugly helmets and/or someone trying to hit a ball with a bat standing around all day in their fat as...sss.

Posted by: DCUnitedFootball | January 13, 2009 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Get Clint Dempsey's rap video on MTV!
Those kids love their rap music.

Posted by: StewartDC8 | January 13, 2009 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Brian Ching and Natasha Kai could renew the old Donnie and Marie roles for Hawaiian Punch. If you've over 35, you'll understand.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | January 13, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

FBOFW, soccer is broadcast on soccer channels (FSC, Setanta, Gol) so it's a sport that is extremely narrow-casted. Set and FSC have even started to advertise on each other's channels which is cannabalistic at best. I think you will find from the ratings of FSC when they begin to have Nielsen ratings that the channel gets negligible ratings for MLS, much less the EPL. Companies can barely afford to pay for Super Bowl ads this year. Short of getting an MLS player a cameo in a Subway 5 dollar footlong commercials, I don't see it from an industry perspective.

Posted by: IamAM | January 13, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Chest_Rockwell, you're analysis of all things football is always stellar.
You're perception of the importance of *fancy hair* is hilarious.
Thanks for the chuckles.

What you need is to take a guy like Sacha and *blow him Up*!
Tattoos, flat bill hats, and Monster Energy drinks is what it's all about. It trips me out tuning into skate/snow/bmx events these days and watching these kids finish a run and instantly remove their helmets and throw on some hott Fitted NE flat brimmed clown hat, crack open a 87 ounce monster energy drink and start showing off their latest ink.
A cross between Tino and Emo would probably be the ticket.

Posted by: DadRyan | January 13, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Or we could keep doing what we're doing. I agree that with the WPS coming in we'll see something, somewhere involving the ladies.
Also thought Benny, and Sacha, and maybe a little bit of Crayton was pretty funny on those VW bits...

Posted by: DadRyan | January 13, 2009 9:34 PM | Report abuse

FWIW, Mia has been in some of the recent "G" (gatoraide) ads....

Posted by: Becks_for_prez | January 13, 2009 12:57 PM

Those ads are for Gatorade? Thanks for clueing me in. I had no idea. I looked it up on the internet and I looked up S-VC, the only company info in the ad and came up with squadoosh.



Posted by: jayrockers | January 13, 2009 10:34 PM | Report abuse

Mia was a hard act to follow. Natashia Kai may be the next in line. Her Dennis Rodman imitation could earn her 30 second spots in between episodes of LA Ink.

WPS is sure to have some general marketing spots coming up. Stay tuned.

Soccer still is taking baby steps in the advertising world. But if you take away a prominent athlete and look at other references to soccer in commercials (mom loading up the minivan) there has been some progress.

MR Caretaker

Posted by: postgolb | January 13, 2009 11:53 PM | Report abuse

Wasn't Beckham just dropped by Pepsi as well?



Posted by: jayrockers | January 14, 2009 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Has anyone thought that the problem may not be the athlete, but the agent?

I suspect that part of the problem lies in the inability of agents to sell a soccer player as a spokesman, endorser.

Look, the coveted advertising dollars of 18-49 year olds has to include 49 year olds with kids playing soccer. I think the agents need to do a better job of thinking about those things that pre-teens, tweens and teenagers want and can convince their parents to buy.

WPS will do some spots, but U.S. Soccer and the player's agents themselves need to do a better job of selling the players as endorsers, spokesmen. After all, many of them are quite articulate as well as easy to look at.

Posted by: MattJohnston1 | January 14, 2009 2:17 PM | Report abuse

What about Ben Olson?

I have seen the Ben Olson Dicks commercials in NYC.

Posted by: peteywheatstraw | January 15, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

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