The next time President Obama tries to glom on to a sports star for a little boost, he’d better consult the Nielsens first. The firm has just started rating the political and commercial endorsement value of sports stars and, with a quick look, Obama would have discovered that kissing up to Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning would have done him a whole lot better than sympathizing with Philadelphia Eagles QB Michael Vick, who’s still living down a dogfighting conviction. Vick’s Nielsen/E-Poll “N-score” is poor nationally: 25, a “starter” on the new chart, says Nielsen Sports Vice President Stephen Master. Though if Obama was trying to reach African-Americans, then it was a touchdown, because Vick’s brand is sky-high among blacks.
Nielsen’s new N-score is the latest tool being considered by politicians and companies as they look for ways to get an advantage. For years, sports figures have been tapped by candidates to generate support. Basketball great Charles Barkley backed Obama in 2008 and Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling endorsed George W. Bush days before the 2004 election. But as Obama saw in the public outcry over his support for Vick, some sports stars work better than others.
Master says that’s where the N-score comes into play. “Credibility is the currency by which sporting figures’ effectiveness as endorsers is measured,” he says. “From Wall Street to Washington, people want to surround themselves with individuals of influence.”
Nielsen, known for its independent TV ratings, tested some names for Whispers to come up with the top six national endorsers in football, baseball, and basketball. A Nielsen score of 200 or better is Hall of Fame status, 100-199 is superstar status, and Nielsen calls 50-99 an MVP. A 100 or more is pay dirt. The top six: Boston Celtics’ Shaquille O’Neal, 334; Colts’ Manning, 262; Minnesota Vikings’ Brett Favre, 196; Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, 173; New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees, 166; and New York Yankees’ Derek Jeter, 165.
What’s more, the rating may even predict potential political superstars among sports figures. One notable standout in Nielsen’s rankings is Tim Tebow, the University of Florida quarterback who’s now with the Denver Broncos. His N-score is a strong 141, putting him in the top five among all active professional quarterbacks. Says Master: “The guy has just started his NFL career and he’s in the top five. Wow. This guy is election material when he hangs up his cleats.”
Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR.