By Barry Janoff
February 26, 2015: Unlike Babe Ruth, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson and Bruce Lee, celebrities can be retired and well-past their greatest achievements — but still be alive — to sell merchandise.
Muhammad Ali, 73, who last boxed professionally in 1981, last week signed a deal with Under Armour to sell a line of apparel while his voiceover is central to a current commercial for Toyota's Camry starring paralympian and author Amy Purdy, which broke during Super Bowl XLIX.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 67, who retired from the NBA in 1989, in 2013 starred alongside legends Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Bill Russell in a commercial for AT&T that broke during March Madness and last year appeared in series of TV spots for Travel Wisconsin alongside actor Robert Hays spoofing the classic movie in which they appeared, Airplane!
Golfer Arnold Palmer, 85, whose last win on the PGA Tour was in 1973, remains in high demand, especially among golf-related sponsors, and over the past couple of years has appeared in TV spots for PNC Bank, PGA, USGA and Visit Florida. His ESPN This Is SportsCenter spot from 2009 (in which he makes an Arnold Palmer drink in the ESPN cafeteria) is still in rotation.
Pelé, 74, regarded as the greatest soccer player of all time, scored his last goal in 1977 but had a marketing resurgence last year, due in large part to the FIFA World Cup in his native Brazil, starring in commercials that included Subway and Emirates Airline (alongside Ronaldo) as well as efforts for the rebooted New York Cosmos, for whom he is honorary president and global spokesman.
Joe Montana, 58, won four Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers and last threw an NFL pass as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs in 1994. Montana's roster of endorsement deals has seemingly increased the longer he has been retired, including such recent alliances as AT&T, Skechers, Papa John's (with Peyton Manning), Joint Juice and BNY Melon.
Bo Jackson, the youngster of this group at 52, last played in the NFL in 1990 (with the then Los Angeles Raiders) and MLB in 1993 (with the Kansas City Royals). He accomplished a lot in a short pro window and for that he still resonates with fans and marketers, the latter most recently including a just-released spot for Nike Golf (with Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Michelle Wie and Charles Barkley in which he reprises his classic "Bo Knows" line), 5 Hour Energy and a series of spots for AT&T alongside Doug Flutie, Herschel Walker and Montana.
"To me, it is just a matter of who has relevance to an audience or not — and that can be a current star, living legend or deceased celebrity," said David Schwab, SVP/Managing Director of Octagon First Call, the agency’s celebrity acquisition and engagement division (which he established in 2005). "As for living legends, they often bring in a large demographic appeal, and in the marketing era of 'retro,' a living legend can be 'cool' again."
That list has and continues to have among it golf legend Jack Nicklaus, 75, who officially retired from the PGA Tour in 2005 and who claimed the last of his record 18 Major Championships in 1986.
Nicklaus has signed a deal with with The Schwan Food Company to create a new line of Jack Nicklaus Ice Cream. The product, a direct result of his self-professed love of ice cream, will see Nicklaus' image appear on-carton and in supporting marketing.
The product was unveiled at The Honda Classic golf tournament, taking place this week in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
The alliance will also see Schwan become an official supporter of the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation, whose goal is to "provide families access to world-class pediatric healthcare."
"It’s no secret that I love ice cream,” Nicklaus related on his Web site. “Needless to say, I have never had so much fun in the research and development of a product. The team at Schwan has a world-class product development center. Together, we have created a variety of flavors—all with real ingredients—for a quality, premium ice cream at a value price.”
Among the Nicklaus-branded or licensed products introduced in recent years that benefit children’s charities are water, wine, lemonade, sunglasses, and golf balls. His marketing partners include Rolex, Allen Edmonds shoes, AriZona Beverage, Shaw Floors and AquqHydrate water.
"Living legends, they often bring in a large demographic appeal and in the marketing era of 'retro,' a living legend can be 'cool' again."
"Jack's whole life is synonymous with excellence, family, and charity,” Howard Milstein, co-chairman for Nicklaus Companies, said in a statement. “And our new collaboration with Schwan embodies all three values in a hand-picked selection of delicious ice cream flavors that also supports children's healthcare. What could possibly taste better?”
The ice cream will be available at Winn Dixie, Bi-Lo and Kroger stores in select markets (MSRP $1.99).
Regarding Ali's appeal to Under Armour and its demographics, Nick Woodhouse, president and CEO for Authentic Brands Group, which licenses Ali's intellectual material for branding purposes, related in a statement, "The partnership with Under Armour is a perfect marriage as it uniquely taps into the deep connection that people have with Ali,"
Abdul-Jabbar, who won six NBA titles and is still the league's all-time leading scorer, has been standing especially tall in his post-playing career as an author and advocate for human rights. A three-time champion with UCLA, his name is now on the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award, which will be named on April 10 under the auspices of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
According to John Doleva, President and CEO for the Basketball Hall of Fame, said in a statement. “When it comes to collegiate centers, none have accomplished more than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and we are pleased to include him in this celebration of the best in the game today. For many years the Basketball Hall of Fame has recognized the top collegiate point guards in the nation with the Bob Cousy Award. We are excited to expand upon these awards by now recognizing the top players at each position,”
As for other living legends? "You could add Mike Eruzione and Jim Craig to the list," First Call's Schwab said of two of the stars from the "Miracle on Ice" U.S. Men's 1980 gold medal winning hockey team. "They are living off a moment that occurred 35 years ago."
Under Armour In The Ring With Muhammad Ali
Surely You've Heard About Kareem, Wisconsin, Airplane!
Back to Home Page