Fans want their stars classy

Posted: February 04, 2011

IT IS TIME to play a game that does not involve dodging falling icicles. Simply pick the five Philadelphia sports figures who have the greatest endorsement potential.

We are not talking niches here. This is not a measure taken from a particular demographic group - not young, not old, not avid sports fans. Instead, this is a sample of the entire Philadelphia population, taken by Nielsen/E-Poll, and it represents the people with a Philadelphia sports connection who scored the highest in measures of awareness, appeal and 46 other personal attributes.

And the winner is . . .

1) Joe Paterno.

This is a surprise, frankly, but maybe it shouldn't be. Everybody knows who Paterno is and everyone respects what he stands for and what he has accomplished, even if a lot of people can't quite figure out why he still wants to coach college football at his age.

Next on the list is . . .

2) Julius Erving.

Again, a surprise. No one doubts the place Erving has secured in the heart of a city, and no one can deny the significance of that 1983 Sixers championship team, but it was a long time ago. No matter, apparently.

The people at Nielsen/E-Poll offer subscribers to their service all manner of demographic slices of this data, which they call an N-score. As Stephen Master, Nielsen's vice president for sports, said, "If you are selling a new basketball shoe, you're not going to want Doctor J or JoePa, probably. But if you are trying to reach as wide a demographic as possible, those two have scored highly on all of the key characteristics of what makes an effective endorser."

Master said the phenomenon of the popular retired player is seen in many of the markets they survey. In Chicago, Michael Jordan remains No. 1 and Mike Ditka still scores very well. In Detroit, Steve Yzerman has the top N-score and Gordie Howe is second.

It suggests people tend to remember the good parts of the past more than the bad. It also suggests that not being in the news every day is probably a good thing when it comes to people and their opinions of you.

Anyway, here is the rest of the Philadelphia top five:

3) Roy Halladay.

4) Ryan Howard.

5) Jayson Werth.

Phillies, Phillies, Phillies. It is just one more measure of how far the franchise has come in the last 5 years. Some of it, though, undoubtedly involves the date of the survey: Oct. 22, 2010. This was the day before the Phillies were eliminated by the Giants in the National League Championship Series, the height of public attention on the team. But the Eagles also were coming off a big win over Atlanta that week, when Kevin Kolb wiped the floor with the Falcons.

Master said that about 650 or 700 people in this market were questioned. Half were shown an individual's name and asked whether they knew who he was. The other half were shown only a picture of the individual and asked whether they knew who he was.

Affirmative answers led to more questions, about overall favorable/unfavorable impressions of the person. Then, personal characteristics were probed. Was the person, for instance, approachable, classy, confident, down to earth, dynamic, experienced, influential, sincere, a trendsetter or trustworthy?

On a national level, the top N-scores among active male athletes belong to Shaun White, Shaquille O'Neal, Apolo Anton Ohno, Peyton Manning and Michael Phelps. LeBron James' number plummeted after the whole decision business last summer.

The top five active NFL players in 2010 were Manning, Brett Favre, Drew Brees, Donovan McNabb and Tim Tebow. Tom Brady has three Lombardi Trophies, but doesn't make the list.

And then there is the case of Michael Vick. Master said Vick was No. 30 on the Philadelphia list in that October survey.

"Vick has one of the highest levels of awareness in Philadelphia, even higher than some of the top five," Master said. "But his appeal is not really as high, for obvious reasons . . .

"I would think, based on the success of his season, that he would be higher when we test again in the spring - assuming he stays out of trouble."

Imagine if he hadn't thrown that last interception. *

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