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Assessing damage to Favre on eve of last game in Chicago... we think

By Ed Sherman, Crain’s Chicago Business Sports Blog

Nov 10, 2010

Brett Favre makes his last visit to Soldier Field Sunday.

Assuming the Bears don’t play Minnesota in the playoffs, this has to be his last game in Chicago, right? There’s no way he comes back for another season, right?

You never know with Mr. Favre, 41, but surely he has to be second-guessing himself for returning this year. He’s playing in major pain on a dysfunctional team that could be going nowhere with a loss this week.

Plus, if he isn’t in the spotlight, perhaps the Jenn Sterger thing never happens.

Mr. Favre’s image has taken a significant beating in the wake of alleged advances to Ms. Sterger when he was with the Jets in 2008. Conan O’Brien made up for lost time by inserting a joke about Mr. Favre into the opening monologue of his new show Monday.

Previously, “Saturday Night Live” did a spoof of one of Mr. Favre’s Wrangler’s commercials. It certainly wasn’t the kind of image Wrangler wanted for its product.

Unlike Tiger Woods, who lost a slew of endorsements amid his own problems, Wrangler is sticking by Mr. Favre. He continues to be featured on its website. He is shown sitting on a bench with the guys, holding a football and wearing a gold wedding ring.

Prior to the controversy, Mr. Favre was figured to have significant marketing appeal long after his career ended, whenever that would be. I wondered if that still is the case.

I received differing views from three sports marketing experts.

Jim Andrews, a senior vice-president at Chicago-based IEG LLC, thinks Mr. Favre will recover in the public’s eye. He said:

“The situation is still in flux, so it’s somewhat difficult to say definitively, but if the Jenn Sterger story continues to fade away as it is currently doing, since she is not talking, I think it will not have a major, lasting impact on Favre’s overall marketability or his legacy.

“Sports fans are typically willing to overlook what many would deem a minor indiscretion — not that I mean to trivialize infidelity — and thus so are the advertisers who are trying to reach those fans.

“The prominent attributes of the Brett Favre ‘brand,’ which include peak performance, perseverance, determination, ability to come back from adversity, etc., are strong enough to overcome this less-prominent negative attribute.”

Jonathan Jensen, an adjunct professor in the sports management department at Columbia University, isn’t so sure. He said:

“Brands such as Rayovac, Sears and Wrangler have utilized Favre in their advertising and promotions based in large part due to his appeal as an aw-shucks, small-town family man who has reached the pinnacle of his profession and broken every major passing record in NFL history.

“The saga with Sterger has at minimum complicated that image. Earlier in his career, Favre was able to overcome his admission of an addiction to prescription painkillers largely because the issue, while serious, didn’t contradict that image. In this day and age of increased scrutiny I would be very surprised if a company again utilized him as the centerpiece of a brand-building campaign, at least in the next five to 10 years.”

Kevin Sullivan, the White House communications director under George W. Bush and former PR director for NBC Sports who now runs his own consulting company, points out an obstacle for Mr. Favre. He said:

“As we have seen with athletes in peril many times before, Favre can overcome this episode if he handles it the right way. In the near term, I suspect it will hurt him with advertisers. Long term, the jury is out. We saw Kobe Bryant and Ray Lewis return to become major endorsers after their troubles — but they had one advantage Favre will not — they still had many years of great play ahead of them. There is no better way to win back your fans than by performing well on the field, and he won’t be able to do that for much longer.”

Mr. Favre also was a shoo-in to land a network job prior to the controversy. Now there are some questions on that front too, although Mr. Sullivan thinks there will be plenty of opportunities for him.

As Mr. Andrews said, much depends on where the story goes from here. If nothing more happens, perhaps it will fade away.

After what Mr. Favre has gone through this year, he might just want to fade away, too, and get out what has become a hot public spotlight. But not before he likely torments the Bears one last time in Chicago.

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