"No doubt some Eagles' sponsors are wringing their hands" over Philadelphia's signing of convicted illegal-dogfight magnate Michael Vick, once the league's highest-paid player, after his release from prison, writes Business Week's Mark Hyman here.
The Eagles, he notes, have sponsorship deals with Budweiser beer, Canon copiers, Gatorade, MasterCard, NovaCare Rehabilitation, Staples, and U.S. Airways. And Lincoln National Corp. of Radnor, which is locked into a $140 million, 20-year Eagles stadium naming rights contract. All have their reputations on the line with the Eagles' new ex-offender and potential comeback star.
Did the sponsors bless Vick's hiring in advance? "We have a strong commitment to the Greater Philadelphia region, which includes a long-term agreement with the Philadelphia Eagles for stadium naming rights to Lincoln Financial Field. Our partnership includes a variety of community-related initiatives and reinforces our focus on supporting civic, cultural and educational programs in all the communities where we operate. We have no role in Eagles operations, including personnel decisions," Lincoln National spokeswoman Lauren Sammerson told me via email.
If they didn't advise, were they at least warned? "Given how much money is at stake, and the smartness of the parties involved, I'd be very surprised" if a sponsor such as Lincoln National didn't know ahead of time, Andrew Bergstein, associate director of Penn State's Center for Sports Business & Research, told Hyman.
Vick blew a $13-million-a-year contract with the Atlanta Falcons, and sponsorships with Coca-Cola and other big companies, when he went away. He'll earn $1.6 million this year with the Eagles, more if he wins a longterm role.
If Vick helps the Eagles, dead dogs won't matter to fans or sponsors, Hyman concludes. Philadelphia "has a hard-as-nails reputation... But Philadelphia fans also love their comeback stories—anyone remember Rocky Balboa?—and they have supported such bad-boy athletes as onetime Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens in the past. So it is hard to imagine that most won't eventually pull for Vick if he helps the team's chances to get to the Super Bowl."