Darren Rovell

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Friday, December 13
If he can sell Blizzards, then why not smoothies?

By Darren Rovell

Michael Jordan gets paid to sell basketball shoes. Tiger Woods earns serious coin to sell golf apparel. But can Mark Cuban sell smoothies?

The eccentric Dallas Mavericks owner is the first of his kind in the sports world to use his public image to peddle someone else's products. Former New England Patriots owner Victor Kiam was a great salesman, but, as he said in the TV ads, he liked his Remington shaver so much that he bought the company.

See, that wasn't so hard. Now watch what I can do with yogurt and fresh fruit.
Cuban garnered national attention last season by spending a day making Blizzards and selling Dilly Bars after he was fined $500,000 for saying he wouldn't hire the NBA's head of referees to manage a Dairy Queen. Since then he has made it known that, for a price, he can be a company's pitchman.

"I'm part of the product line and I'm for sale," said Cuban, the former co-founder of Broadcast.com and current chairman of HDNet. "I will support any major customer of the Mavericks."

And companies, from tanning salons to health products, are begging to be associated with the team and the billionaire.

Cuban, who bought the team for $280 million in January 2000, tells Mavericks sales executives that he is willing to make occasional appearances for a team sponsor if it helps to close a deal. Cuban's orders, combined with the Mavericks' success, have helped to triple the team's sponsorship revenue to more than $20 million since Cuban took over as owner of the NBA team.

"When we (became) associated with the Mavericks, we were really doing it to become associated with Mark Cuban," said Tony Hartl, owner of Planet Tan, a chain of seven tanning salons in the Dallas area.

Hartl has purchased about 3,000 tickets to Mavericks home games this season and the company sponsored the Mavs Dancers calendar. He says he also has paid a typical endorsement fee for the services of Cuban, who has appeared on radio and print advertising.

One ad featuring a picture of Cuban wearing a Planet Tan T-shirt reads, "You don't have to be a billionaire to look like one." Cuban is also the voice on the company's message machine and has been incorporated into the company's training video.

"Our target is that male and female in their late 20's and being associated with Mark suggests that our company is a hip, cool and fun place," Hartl said.

Cuban said he won't endorse just anything, "but if the price is high enough, I will at least consider it," he said.

The Smoothie Factory, which has five stores in Dallas, upped their sponsorship of the Mavericks from $50,000 last season to $108,000 this season.

Everyone has their price, as Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has demonstrated time and again.
That Cuban has allowed the company to use his name and image on one of its promotions made the deal an easy sell despite more than doubling the company's financial commitment.

"Mark Cuban, right now, is one of the hottest names in the country," Smoothie Factory co-founder Paul Scarlett said. "If I can align myself with Cuban and what he has done for the Dallas Mavericks, that's worth its weight in gold."

Beginning in November, 21 Smoothie Factories in Texas have been offering the Mark Cuban Combo -- a 20 oz. Peanut Butter Powerhouse smoothie and a ProtoCookie -- for $5.74. Cuban's picture sipping a smoothie and holding a cookie has appeared on in-store advertising.

"Mark definitely helps get people into our store," Scarlett said.

As part of the promotion Cuban agreed to allow a customer to win the "Ultimate Maverick Road Trip," which includes flying on the team's private plane, riding on the team buses and staying in the team hotel when they play the Atlanta Hawks on Jan. 8.

The deals keep on coming. There's the one with New Line Cinema, which has Cuban -- much like companies try to plaster logos on family members at tennis matches -- wearing T-shirts promoting their upcoming movies, including Lord of the Rings. In a deal with Wal-Mart, Cuban plans to help sell Mavericks comic books by making appearances at area stores.

And Cuban is finalizing a deal with Mexican restaurant Don Pablo's. Part of the deal includes having the Mavs owner spend a night as a guest bartender in an effort to garner similar attention that Cuban did when he served Blizzards at a Dairy Queen.

It's just a plain shoe
Remember the time when the more gimmicks a shoe had the more popular it was? Consider those days over, as the two shoes that will get the most attention over the next couple months could be plain white leather sneakers.

Less is more in the retro era, or so Reebok hopes with its new Allen Iverson shoe.
Nike's Air Force 1, the first shoe to use air technology, has remained a staple at shoe stores since it debuted in 1982. But thanks to the urban trend that embraces retro gear, as well as a new rap song by Nelly called "Air Force One" (in the video he and St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk go around town trying to find them), the shoes are selling for hundreds of dollars each.

Although there is increased demand, Nike won't make more pairs than they usually do, said Nike spokesman Nate Tobecksen. "When they first came out, they were seen as a performance shoe," Tobecksen said. "Now it's all about the off-the-court fashion look."

Reebok is readying to counter the buzz by introducing the I3 Pressure on March 1. The shoe, which will retail at $10 cheaper ($70) than the Air Force 1's, is a all-white leather low top with Allen Iverson's I3 logo imprinted into the sides of the shoe.

"The clean look that Nike debuted in the early '80s and Reebok's classics, which came in the mid '80s, is definitely back," said Marco Chow, a product manager for Reebok. Chow said that 70 to 75 percent of sneakers sold to their target market -- urban males, ages 12-18 -- are bought with fashion in mind instead of sports use. Reebok officials say Iverson might wear a red, white and blue version of the shoe should the Philadelphia 76ers make the playoffs.

Your ad here
The Daytona Cubs, the Class A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, are believed to have initiated the first advertising deal in sports history involving a fan. The Wreck Riverfront Bar & Grill will pay the team $4,500 to sponsor Cubs fan Joe Rowe, who has attended 522 consecutive home games, a streak that began since the 1995 All-Star break.

Rowe, who has been dubbed "Front Rowe Joe," will wear a jersey with the restaurant's logo on it to all games on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and laminated signs that Rowe typically holds up will now feature the restaurant's logo. Before every home game, Rowe also will run out to the outfield and flip a Wreck-sponsored sign called "The Front Rowe Joe Count," which will keep track of his streak.

"I'm going to try to emulate Sammy (Sosa) when I run out there," said Rowe, who admitted he has never been to the restaurant but plans on going this weekend.

Daytona Cubs general manager Buck Rogers said there is no reason other team's couldn't follow their model. "There is a 'Front Rowe Joe' in every single ballpark," said Rogers, who is not worried the 48-year-old Rowe will miss a game anytime soon.

Rowe was one of 12 fans who took the team up on its offer to get a permanent tattoo of the Daytona Cubs logo in exchange for a lifetime ticket to the team's games.

Darren Rovell covers sports business for ESPN.com. He can be reached at darren.rovell@espn3.com.

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