Monday, September 18, 2006

Reggie Bush – his image and his ability to sell and market

The full frontal assault on Reggie Bush continues unabated, and that had little if anything to do with Bush picking up five rushing yards on six carries, during the Saints 34-27 win against Green Bay. It's been all Reggie since Thursday, all Reggie for all the wrong reasons.

An issue well worth considering has Reggie Bush hurt their image, and what impact (if any) will the last few days have on an his marketability? Has our society become so cynical where if the allegations leveled at an athlete are proven to be false we still consider the athlete to be guilty and therefore difficult to sell? If an athlete excels at their respective sport are we prepared to ignore their indiscressions and buy whatever they’re selling, if the charges against them are proven to be true? In the not too distant future, Reggie Bush and his corporate partners are going to be forced to face these key issues.

An Insider report published on August 22 offered an in-depth look at the rise, fall and resurrection of Kobe Bryant. Saturday’s Insider focused on Reggie Bush as an unpaid professional. Today’s Insider -- have the events of the last few days tarnished Bush’s image and what if any impact will the off-the-field news of the last few days have on Bush’s ability to keep his current roster of corporate sponsors happy.

Yahoo Sports Thursday, offered an investigative report alleging Bush had received financial and other benefits worth in excess of $100,000 during this three years at the University of Southern California. If proven to be true, Bush could lose the Heisman Trophy (emblematic of being selected as college football player of the year) he won in 2005 and USC could be stripped of the mythical national championship the Trojans won in 2004.

Before Reggie Bush played a down of football in the National Football League, his marketing agent Mike Ornstein generated a series of endorsement opportunities reportedly worth millions of dollars annually to Bush. Several of the more serious allegations being directed at Bush are directly linked to Ornstein.

Friday, Brian Watkins a lawyer representing Michael Michaels and Lloyd Lake, two so called ‘aspiring agents’, also directly linked to the allegations Bush is accused of in the Yahoo report, told The Long Beach Press-Telegram his clients wanted to hear Bush speak the truth.

Watkins told The Press-Telegram, he intends to file a "fraud and breach of contract" against Bush in the next few weeks, which would require Bush to attend a deposition and answer questions from Watkins.

"The deposition will be one of the absolutely keys," Watkins said. "(The NCAA) can't get him to talk but I can. They can't get his side of the story. But he has to answer questions under oath.

"The NCAA is kind of stalled. We can't give the NCAA our documentation right now because they would have to turn it over to the Bush family, which would hurt our case. But we are keeping them abreast of the situation."

Three days before the start of the NFL regular season, ten days ago, Ornstein told The New Orleans Times Picayune he was hanging up the ‘no vacancy’ sign when it came to Reggie entertaining new endorsement opportunities – Reggie was sold out.

"I've basically been turning people down now," Ornstein said last week. "I don't want him to do too much more now. I want him to focus on football. Every time you commit to a deal, you've got to commit to days. We don't have any more days. I don't want him taking every one of his Tuesdays. He had to rest this week, but I had him out there handing out boxes. That's just the way it is."

The usually talkative Ornstein hasn’t said a great deal since Yahoo’s investigative report (a series of articles) hit the Internet Thursday. One Yahoo report focused on Ornstein and his reputation. According to Yahoo, Ornstein the driving force off-the-field for everything Bush does: in 1995, pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud for his role in a scheme to defraud the NFL. Yet he has reemerged as a major player within the league and in the world of sports marketing, and his relationship with Bush has gained him further attention and notoriety.

"He's a colorful guy," Marc Ganis, a longtime NFL consultant said last week. "He's the kind of guy that you wouldn't be surprised to find on the field before the Super Bowl or in a bar at two or three in the morning.

"I'll tell you one thing: He's done an absolutely phenomenal job for Reggie Bush. Let's be frank about something. Reggie Bush [had not] played a down in a regular-season NFL game, yet he [generated] the kind of revenue and exposure that someone who's been in a half dozen Pro Bowls gets."

As Ganis suggests, Ornstein has negotiated an impressive list of endorsement opportunities for Bush included, but not limited too:

A $5 million contract with Adidas. On Thursday, Adidas reached an agreement with the National Football League that permits NFL players with adidas endorsement contracts to wear adidas football and gloves during NFL games, an investment on adidas part necessitated by their contract with Bush.

Reggie Bush has already made nine television commercials (most of them network spots), including a series for adidas and Pepsi, two of the biggest brands any athlete can hope to be associated with. Bush also has endorsement agreements with Subway, EA Sports, Hummer and

In the survey for a marketing trade journal, Michael Lynch, senior vice president of event and sponsorship marketing for Visa, said Bush's winning personality makes him an attractive product spokesman, and his athletic ability simply enhances those traits.

"You have to feel like his creativity and poise will translate well at the next level," Lynch said. "He's the kind of player that makes you stay up late for the highlight show."

Added Michael Turner, senior vice president of OnSport: "His 'did you see that' quality can only facilitate, and accelerate, his ability to enjoy significant and immediate marketing success."

While Ornstein hasn’t been seen or heard since Thursday, he had a great deal to say about his golden goose before his relationship with Reggie became a national issue.

"Every day," Ornstein said, "Reggie has a new idea, and then I have to go out and try to execute it. What's happening is every time he goes some place, he meets somebody else. Now, I have to write a letter to the president of the United States. Last week he met the president, and the president wants him to come to Washington after the season and do some stuff with him.

"If he has a great year this year, maybe rookie of the year, or knocks 'em dead like we all hope he will, Reggie has an opportunity to become the No. 1-endorsed football player in history."

Bush has maintained he hasn’t done anything wrong and when the truth is told, the record will be set straight.

"I'm not worried about any of these allegations or anything like that," Bush said Friday to reporters at the New Orleans Saints training facility. "Because I know what the truth is, like I said from Day One. Once the smoke clears, everybody's going to see we did nothing wrong."

"USC already knows. They know what the deal is," Bush said. "When I talked to them I told them the same thing: `Don't worry about any of this. If there were something to worry about, then I would tell you, but there's really nothing to worry about.' That's really what it is, and I can say that wholeheartedly, because I believe that and I know it's the truth."

"It makes you want to go out there right away and tell your side of the story," Bush said. "Show everybody the facts, the truth. But you can't do that. That wouldn't be the right way to do it."

You can assume in each of the contracts Ornstein negotiated on Bush’s behalf, a morals clause was included, a standard in any contract athletes sign when they agree to support a companies product.

Mark Conrad Law Professor at New York’s Fordam University offered this understanding of a morals clause:

The morals clause is an essential component of endorsement contracts in professional sports. It is a form of termination clause, whereby it enumerates a variety of specific reasons for termination to protect the endorser's interest in its image or the image of its products that are affiliated with the athlete.

These clauses are justified because the athlete is under constant scrutiny from the public and the media. Transgressions that may occur could cause embarrassment for the firm employing the services of the athlete, especially when the athlete is convicted of a crime or engages in acts of “moral turpitude."

In addition to convictions, frequent morals clauses prohibitions include the use of drugs (illegal substances or steroids), acts of public disrepute (exposing himself in a public place), suspensions due to poor sportsmanship and public criticisms of the product the athlete is supposed to endorse.

Although rare, an athlete may impose a morals clause on the firm he or she represents. In such a case, the athlete could cancel the contract if, for example, the company engages in controversial activities such as environmental hazards, tobacco production or refusing to back gun control regulations.

Often, the moral clause involves some of the most important negotiations of the entire endorsement contract. Because it gives one side the right to terminate the entire deal with no penalty, the drafting of the language of the moral clause is extremely important.

The key to Reggie Bush’s image will be if he’s telling the truth. As SBN suggested in Saturday’s Insider, the basis for the allegations Yahoo has made against Bush include documentation that only the Yahoo reporters have seen, and “on-the-record interviews with sources close to the situation”.

In the world of innuendoes it doesn’t get much more ambiguous then the phrasing Yahoo used. Journalists often have to use unnamed sources, but to base the credibility of the assertions Yahoo is making, has to bring into question if those who Yahoo spoke with, had a axe to grind against Reggie Bush, therefore questionable incentives as to why they felt compelled to speak with Yahoo.

Noted New York based Mike Paul, president and senior counselor of MGP & Associates PR (, has long been a believer in the truth not only setting you free but allowing personalities to move forward with their careers both on and off the field.

“Truth and honesty are the greatest building blocks or “bricks” of reputation management. Spin is a four-letter word. Spin is a lie and it is not your friend. Avoid spin (lies) to avoid a reputation in crisis. To be honest with others, you first must be honest with yourself. “Honesty creates trust and trust is your reputation’s greatest friend,” a centric belief in a message Paul offers to all of his clients.

The biggest challenge Reggie Bush may face is if indeed he’s telling the truth, is in corporate America and consumers believing him. In today’s world of instant communication filled with cynicism, there are more then a few people hoping Reggie is proven to be a liar and he loses everything his play on the football field has brought his life off the football field.

Former Houston Texans general manager Charley Casserly, now a member of CBS’ “The NFL Today” was asked three questions during Sunday’s show by the shows host James Brown.

Casserly and the Texans came under a great deal of criticism when the Texans with the first pick in April’s 2005 NFL draft selected Mario Williams and not. Casserly made it clear to Brown, Reggie Bush told the Texans in their pre-draft meeting he had done nothing wrong, had never accepted any money illegally while he played football at USC and had no idea how is parents had been able to afford a home that appeared to be well above their financial means while Bush was at USC.

Assuming Reggie is telling the truth (and again until there is conclusive proof provided otherwise, it is essential to believe Bush); there is no reason to doubt Reggie. If however, he isn’t telling the truth Reggie Bush has set himself up for the fall of Reggie Bush.

Kobe Bryant has managed to restore much of his reputation, with nothing more then a serious series of allegations being directed at him. Kobe Bryant was never proven to be guilty of anything beyond bad judgment on his part if the charges against Bryant had been proven; he would have faced jail time and likely would have never recovered any of marketability.

If after telling everyone from the Houston Texans to the media after Sunday’s Saints – Packers game, heaven help Reggie Bush if he isn’t telling the truth. He’ll have his on field ability and little else. His image would be tarnished and nearly impossible to repair. You would never be able to sell Reggie Bush if he is lying to the world.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited in this Insider Report: The New Orleans Times Picayune, Yahoo Sports and The Long Beach Press-Telegram