After looking back on my Colin Kaepernick piece, I got to thinking about what he’s risking with his protest. Not only is he possibly risking not getting signed after his current contract is up, but he’s also probably hurting his marketability because of his alienation of the right-wing population in this country.
From there I started thinking about another column I wrote about a year and a half ago where I tried to figure out who most valuable male athletes were when it came to endorsement value in the U.S. (they don’t have to be Americans, but just marketable here). So let’s do it again. With all the tragedy and negativity in the world right now, it’s be nice to have some fun every now and again.
This is a column that asks the following: Whom would you draft first if you were a corporate executive looking to have an athlete represent your brand in this country going forward? Of course, certain brands are going to appeal to certain sports. Phil Mickelson is highly marketable to older males watching golf, but he’s not going to cross over going forward at his age. So, I wanted to see if I could compile a list of the most marketable athletes today, from here forward.
For my list, I’m sticking with American sports (including golf and tennis) and we are going to go by value here in the U.S. because I’m not going to pretend that I have one iota of an idea as to whom and what are marketable abroad. Also, I’m sure nobody wants to read this column only to have to Google cricket players like Virat Kohli.
In delving into the topic, I wanted to be as analytical as possible because isn’t it way more fun when analysts pretend to have done some scientific analysis when all they really did was subjectively assign some numbers? To determine marketability, I assigned the following all-important categories: 1) Age; 2) Unlikely to Become Entrenched in a Tiger-esque Scandal (“ULBET”); 3) Charm; 4) Likeability; 5) Excellence; 6) Current Population Outreach (“CPO”… also a fancy term I just made up for number of Twitter followers – although this was tougher than you’d think because one person on the list so thoroughly dominates the category); and 7) Home Market.
In weighing the above six factors, I assigned greater value to numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 and less value to 7. Numbers 1 through 6 get a max of 15 points while number 7 gets a max of 10 points. No, I didn’t assign these point values just to manipulate the system to give me a max of 100 points. (Oh, like you wouldn’t have done the same thing.) Home market got less value because with social media and television you can reach more people despite being in a smaller market.
On the flip side, age is important because, with athletes, the shelf life isn’t long. Sure there are ad campaigns centered around retired athletes, but not the sorts that are expected to generate hundreds of millions of dollars. ULBET is important because, well, it is. You don’t want to invest millions in a guy who’s going to force you to “part ways.” Excellence matters because everybody loves a winner. Quick, who finished 2nd in the 2015 MVP race? It doesn’t matter the sport. Less than 1 percent of the population is going to care about the also-ran.
Charm is important because you want the public to connect with the athlete marketing your company. How is likeability different from charm you ask? Alex Rodriguez can be charming. Not too many people like him (sorry for the random foreign characters).
CFO matters because if an athlete already has a tremendous following, your advertising dollars just get that much more free exposure.
I’ll still keep the list to ten, which you can find below, but first, the list of the honorable mentions, with their marketability points in parenthesis. Again, the max number of points possible is 100, with six of the categories being scored from 1 to 15, and home market getting a max of 10. You’ll find that this list contains a lot of NBA players because the players don’t wear helmets, and that leads to greater marketability.
As a point of reference before we get to the honorable mentions, here was my Top 10, including ties, from May of 2015:
1. Stephen Curry (90)
2. LeBron James (86)
3. Mike Trout (84)
4. J.J. Watt (83)
5. Kevin Durant (82)
6. Aaron Rodgers (81)
T-7. Chris Paul (80)
T-7. Russell Wilson (80)
9. Clayton Kershaw (79)
T-10. Kyrie Irving (78)
T-10. Jordan Spieth (78)
One of the names that makes the honorable mention list is somebody who one would have thought a year ago would be climbing instead of dropping in these rankings. Kevin Durant was one win away from the NBA Finals and very possibly a championship as The Guy for OKC. Fast forward to where we are now and he is a pariah in the middle of the country, the worst kind too, someone who left what he had built to go play second fiddle to Steph, Klay, and Draymond. Yes, Kevin Durant may be the best player on that team, but he’s clearly on Steph’s team, not the other way around. At least when LeBron left he was still the alpha dog. Check out this excerpt from a recent interview Durant did with Rosalyn Gold-Onwude:
Gold-Onwude: You have no real family, you’re on the wrong side of 25, you’re childless, and alone. Somebody close to you said: One more flop, and it’s over.
Durant: Somebody said they were close to me?
How great is that exchange? Fine, fine I made up the excerpt, except, well, not entirely: it’s Tyra Banks’ interview with Tugg Speedman in Tropic Thunder with the ages altered. But just the fact that you could have remotely thought that the exchange occurred with KD is the reason why he has fallen so far in terms of marketability. He’s no longer a top dog, despite the fact that with his basketball ability he still should be. Here is the complete list of honorable mentions.
1,982,475. Greg Hardy (POS . . . you figure out the acronym there)
T-25. Andrew Wiggins (58)
T-25. Karl-Anthony Towns (58)
24. Tom Brady (59)
23. Carmelo Anthony (60)
T-21. Jason Day (61)
T-21. Paul George (61)
20. Novak Djokovic (62)
19. Drew Brees (63)
18. Chris Paul (64)
17. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (65)
16. Bryce Harper (66)
15. Cam Newton (68)
14. Blake Griffin (70)
13. Jordan Spieth (71)
12. Rory McIlroy (73)
11. Kevin Durant (74)
TOP 10 MOST MARKETABLE MALE ATHLETES ALIVE
10. RUSSELL WILSON (75)
Home Market: 7
Unfortunately, there is no getting around his striking resemblance to Bobby Jindal. The Ciara relationship and subsequent marriage hurt the underdog thing he had going for him. But he’s mainstream now. His injury history is starting to build, but I still think you’d be wise to invest in Mr. Wilson. Bonus points for being very suburban mom-friendly.
9. ANTHONY DAVIS (76)
Home Market: 5
It doesn’t hurt to have a built-in self-deprecating nickname like The Brow. I could absolutely see Davis morphing into basketball’s answer to Aaron Rodgers in terms of cheesy commercials that everybody somehow can’t get enough of. More on those down below. The Brow has what it takes to be the face of the NBA skill-wise if he can stay healthy. The sky’s the limit for this guy.
T-7. J.J. WATT (79)
Excellence: 12 (because of injury)
Home Market: 6
Obviously it doesn’t help that he literally just got re-injured and is going to miss the better part of the season. When will athletes learn that herniated discs are no joke? Tiger Woods, Dwight Howard, Clayton Kershaw . . . the list goes on and on (sorry, just a pet peeve). J.J. Watt is basically football’s answer to John Cena, the All-American guy who you either love or hate. But you definitely pay attention when he is on television. Not that I watch professional wrestling. I don’t. Somebody just told me about John Cena. I promise.
T-7. AARON RODGERS (79)
Home Market: 6
Discount double check. These ads are not going anywhere any time soon (I didn’t include a YouTube clip because enough is enough). Neither is Aaron Rodgers. Plus he has a pretty good partner in crime these days. He’s getting up there in years, but he’s still got some gas left in the tank.
6. JAMES HARDEN (81)
Home Market: 7
Pop Quiz: What is missing from that Harden commercial? Answer: Anything to do with winning. As someone who is a far bigger fan of this James Harden than the real one, it shocks me that he’s this high on the list. But the numbers don’t lie. People like the beard. Go figure. He is also YUUUUGE in China thanks to the Rockets connection.
T-4. KYRIE IRVING (82)
Home Market: 5
His injury history is another one that shoots up red flags, and he does like the ladies, which upset some people, but other than that, there is a whole lot to like about Kyrie. When LeBron eventually gets old in basketball years, Kyrie will take over and probably have a few rings to his name. Not only that, but if he came out with the Uncle Drew campaign for Pepsi that early in his career, imagine the ad campaigns that are baking in the oven.
T-4. MIKE TROUT (82)
Home Market: 7 (Anaheim is not Los Angeles, sorry)
He’s the best player in baseball but he hasn’t exactly come out of his shell. If he ever did, he could easily move up on this list. But he really is just a reserved guy who likes to have fun and play baseball. You’re not going to be upset that you invested in Trout because he’ll have staying power, but he’s not going to transcend a sport the way some of the guys above him on this list do.
3. RUSSELL WESTBROOK (84)
Home Market: 5
Brand Jordan, which has Russell Westbrook under contract, is SALIVATING now that Kevin Durant has moved on. It may not be evident right now in the off-season, but Russell Westbrook is going to be talked about because there is a distinct possibility of him going for 30-10-10 every night he suits up. People may be down on OKC now, but they didn’t perform all that poorly when KD was missing in action due to injury and the addition of Oladipo is a sneaky good one. Plus, Steven Adams seems like the real deal despite looking like a pirate. I still like OKC to make the playoffs and a playoff team with an explosive player and personality like Westbrook is a recipe for marketing success.
2. LEBRON JAMES (85)
Home Market: 5
33.2 million Twitter followers. That’s a lot. And he isn’t really that hated anymore, which is a heck of a feat. That’s of course unless you ask my sister Lauren, who holds grudges with the best of them. The only thing really holding the self-proclaimed King back is father time. As every sportscaster ever has said about 1,000 times, father time is undefeated. LeBron is on the downside of his career and his focus seems to be shifting to business opportunities rather than promoting other company’s interests. Can’t really blame him. He wants to be sports’ first athlete-turned-billionaire.
1. STEPHEN CURRY (89)
Home Market: 8
LeBron may have stolen Steph’s actual championship, but not his marketability title that I crowned him with last year. Here’s what I wrote last year: “Steph took a hit in CPO with 2.09 million Twitter followers, but something tells me that number will skyrocket soon.” And skyrocket it did. He now has 7.1 million Twitter followers. His injury history is still a risk. But other than that, what is there not to like? Nike is still kicking itself for failing to sign Mr. Curry, who reigns supreme once again in these rankings.