He has qualities that make marketers salivate: rugged good looks, three Super Bowl rings and a glamorous lifestyle with a supermodel girlfriend.
But a season-ending knee injury last Sunday for New England Patriots golden boy Tom Brady has tarnished his star, at least temporarily.
The lack of on-the-field visibility and questions about his future could call a timeout on his prospects for new endorsement deals, some sports marketing experts say.
Current sponsors are voicing support. But while he recovers, new ads, new contracts and expansion of current deals could be sidelined.
"Just like he's on the shelf for the team, he's also on the shelf for the companies he's endorsing," says Jim Andrews, editorial director of IEG Sponsorship Report. "If he's not going to be on the field or not on TV every weekend, most companies wouldn't say, 'Let's do something new with him.' "
Last year, Brady's endorsement income totaled $10 million, according to Sports Illustrated's "Fortunate 50" report. His major brand sponsorships include Movado high-end watches, Coca-Cola's Glacéau's Smartwater, private jet service NetJets, Coty's Stetson cologne and Atari's Backyard Football video game.
For any marketers involved with high-profile athletes, a season- or career-ending injury is a known risk. Golfer Tiger Woods and China's star Olympic hurdler Liu Xiang are examples of high-profile pitchmen who suffered serious injuries this summer.
"There's an understanding when you sign an athlete that these things happen," says IEG's Andrews. "There's not usually an out clause that says, 'If you get hurt we won't pay you.' "
Yet, any concerns about Brady's full recovery could affect his ability to glean new sponsors — or re-up when his current contracts expire.
These contracts come up for renewal, says Ward Headley, president of sports marketing company Direct Sportslink. With Brady, 31, out at least for the season, he says, a marketer could say, "Wait, do we want to go with a Favre?" (Brett Favre, new quarterback of the New York Jets.)
Brady's bad luck may generate a bonus for other popular NFL endorsers, say sports marketing experts, such as: Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, also known as singer Jessica Simpson's steady date. Also, Peyton and Eli Manning, brothers who quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts and New York Giants, respectively.
Brady's agent, Donald Yee, says Brady has "strong long-term relationships" with his sponsors, who have been "terrific" in supporting him.
As for future business, Yee says, "Right now, obviously the top priority is addressing his physical condition. We'll deal accordingly with the other business issues in time."
Despite Brady's injury, some of his endorsers say they will stick with their pre-scripted plays.
Lauren Schechtman, president of the Humongous division of Atari, is putting the best possible spin on the Oct. 21 release of its Backyard Football '09 video game. In the virtual world, she points out, "Brady will be playing the full season."
Glacéau will launch an early 2009 sweepstakes for a chance to play golf with Brady. "(Even) with Tom not playing on the field, he's still incorporating our brand into his daily lifestyle," says Rohan Oza, chief marketing officer.
Brady's off-the-field persona and fashion sense could help him through the injury. He dates supermodel Gisele Bundchen and has been featured in non-sports magazines such as GQ.
Movado has new ads featuring Brady in November issues of magazines including Sports Illustrated,Forbes, Men's Vogue and GQ. "He represents the qualities that we want consumers to think about when they think about our brand," says Mary Leach, chief marketing officer.
"He's not going to go away this year," says Bob Dorfman, author of the newsletter Sports Marketers' Scouting Report. "He is bigger than football. … He's going to be in the news rehabbing and hanging out with Gisele."
Also, Dorfman says, Brady and his endorsers could turn this into a longer-term bonanza — if Brady would return to the Patriots next season and lead them to a Super Bowl victory.
Brady's value would skyrocket, he says, "If he has this great, triumphant comeback from this near-career-threatening year off."