Saints could be tough sell for national consumers

NEW YORK -- Before Saturday's NFL draft, Reggie Bush had racked up more than $1 million in endorsement money, more than any prospect in league history.

The deal with adidas was $1 million itself, the largest contract ever paid to a running back. In addition, you'll find Bush helping sell sandwiches for Subway, video games for EA Sports, jewelry for Icelink and vehicles for Hummer. The Hummer deal includes the use of its jeeps for a year; Icelink fitted him with its watches and jewelry so he would shine on draft day; and a memorabilia company in Hawaii signed him to an exclusive three-year autograph deal.

And just to think, all this advertising and marketing for the draft's No. 2 pick!

It's hard to believe that any of the executives that signed the contracts with Bush ever thought he would go No. 2 to New Orleans, the nation's 43rd largest television market. So the question now becomes, in a league where players have long relied on local markets to make big money, will Bush be able to break out?

"Look at Peyton Manning," Bush said. "I don't know if Indianapolis is one of the world's best markets, but he's done a great job at representing himself."

Bush is right. Manning is the highest earning spokesman in the NFL, making more than $6 million off the field from deals including Mastercard, Gatorade and DirectTV.

But of the small group of players that make more than $1 million a year in endorsements -- including Manning, Tom Brady, Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick -- none of them are running backs. Just as quarterbacks are the central figures on the field, they're more coveted off of it by advertisers.

Yet, members of Bush's marketing group aren't too concerned by the hurdles.

"We already have our stable deals," said Bush's marketing agent Mike Ornstein. "We set them up so it didn't matter what market he went to. In going to New Orleans, he's going to help build that city and make it proud."

Bush is indeed ahead of the game. With adidas, he'll likely be the first Saints player in recent history to appear on a national television ad. Craig "Ironhead" Heyward left New Orleans before he starred in the shower for the Zest commercial.

"It's really irrelevant which team or market Reggie goes to," said Eric Liedtke, vice president of marketing for adidas America. "He's an ESPN sports highlight waiting to happen and will play in the national spotlight regardless of what colors he is wearing."

Liedtke also said that Bush's slipping to No. 2 won't impact how effective he can be as the company's spokesperson.

"He is still the most complete, exciting and dynamic player to enter the NFL in 2006," Liedtke said. "We're still looking forward to having Reggie be the face of adidas football and we're excited to see what he can do in the NFL."

Others say that Bush will now have to work harder for his marketing money.

"Going to New Orleans dramatically impacts Reggie's opportunity to have national exposure," said Reed Bergman, chief executive of Playbook Inc., a sports marketing firm that represents veteran NFL players Braylon Edwards and Plaxico Burress, newcomers Santonio Holmes and Jay Cutler. "He's going to have to now build his brand more through local and regional opportunities and hope he can break out down the road.

"If he went to New York or if the New Orleans Saints became the Los Angeles Saints at some point, it would be massively different. He wouldn't even have to perform at his peak to get all the deals."

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.Rovell@espn3.com.