Image shuts San Francisco slugger out of lucrative endorsement deals

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Bob Cramer inked several star athletes to lucrative endorsement deals in nearly a decade as a marketing executive for Mastercard International Inc. But he might be best known for walking away from a deal with Barry Bonds.

In 2005, the credit card company called off negotiations with the San Francisco Giants slugger when it became clear that Bonds wouldn’t soon extricate himself from a burgeoning scandal involving his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs.

“That sealed the deal,” Cramer said.

Bonds might be destined for baseball immortality as he closes in on Hank Aaron’s career home run record, but he has never been a popular pitch man. Perhaps it’s a prickly personality that drives his Madison Avenue toxicity. Or the steroid rumors. Or the ongoing federal criminal investigation into the truthfulness of his grand jury testimony. Or all of the above.

“It should be one of the most celebrated endorsement deals of all time,” said Cramer, now president of the sports marketing firm Genesco Sports Enterprises. “But whether he’s guilty or not, no one is going to attach themselves to him now.”

Short-term sponsorships

After he set the single-season home run record in 2001, Bonds scored some short-term sponsorship deals with KFC parent Yum! Brands Inc., and the discount brokerage firm Charles Schwab Corp. Since 1999, he’s been paid to wear spikes from the Italian sporting goods company Fila, and Franklin Sports pays him to wear its batting gloves, but he has few other endorsements.

Last year, according to Sport Illustrated, he took in $2 million in endorsement fees — no paltry sum, especially when added to his one-year, $15.8 million contract with the Giants.

But consider the $7 million in endorsements for New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter; or the $6 million for Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez. Roger Clemens, Albert Pujols and Manny Ramirez all earned more on the side last year than the man who might be the greatest hitter of his era.

Bonds’ value as a pitchman has sunken so low that Victor Conte, the convicted dealer at the center of the BALCO steroids scandal, recently pulled the slugger’s photo from the home page of his Web site hawking legal nutritional supplements.

“All companies rotate the design of their home page to maintain interest,” Conte said in an e-mail explaining why he took down the Bonds photograph.

Fila discontinued sales

Even Fila discontinued sales of its Bonds XT cross-training shoes in 2004 after only about a year on the market. Fila spokeswoman Lauren Mallon said the decision to discontinue the shoe, for which Bonds was to share in sales, was made by a new management team. The company also scrubbed plans to introduce a children’s baseball cleat signed by Bonds.

“We’ve had a very long and fruitful relationship with Barry Bonds,” Mallon said. She declined to discuss details of the deal with Bonds, though he reportedly received a Ferrari 360 Spyder convertible for endorsing the now-discontinued shoes.

Bonds also is seeking to capitalize on memorabilia sales as he approaches Aaron’s mark of 755 homers. He personally authenticates every hat, jersey and other piece of clothing worn in pursuit of the record, and stores them in a warehouse. He says it’s so no one attempts to steal the memorabilia.

Opted out of agreement

Bonds opted out of Major League Baseball’s licensing agreement before the 2004 season, though some of his gear is auctioned off on MLB’s Web site. Most of it is reserved for, his personal Web site that sells most of his stuff. He has so far sent little to the baseball Hall of Fame, and officials are concerned little tangible evidence of his home run record will end up in Cooperstown.

Memorabilia experts say the price of Bonds’ gear has remained depressed because of the steroids scandal. Still, experts predict Bonds ultimately will cash in once he becomes the home run king.

“Five to 10 years from now, no one is going to care that he was caught up in all this steroids stuff,” said Robert Tuchman, president of the sports marketing company TSE Sports and Entertainment. “The companies are just going to care that he is the home run king. He will be in demand when it’s all said and done.”

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