Cheryl Cole for L'Oreal, Ryan Reynolds for Hugo Boss, Roger Federer for Gillette. Three celebrities but only one has picked up every accolade their industry has to offer. In sport, while looks are useful, talent is the thing that brands are buying.
The exception to the rule who everyone cites is Anna Kournikova; despite never winning a WTA singles title, her reported career earnings of $3m was dwarfed by the $10m in endorsements she made annually. This was much to the chagrin of Lindsay Davenport, the World No one at the time, who had to make do with far fewer sponsorships, although she enjoyed far more on court success.
The long list of partners signed with Novak Djokovic, Lionel Messi and Sebastian Vettel are not attracted to their looks. Whilst in other industries beauty is valued, in sport ability rules and it's here where it has its greatest appeal. As ambassadors, these stars essentially sell hope. The average Joe aspires to Rory McIlroy's handicap and if using the same club helps him near that, he buys into the dream.
Sport's attraction lies with beautiful football, supreme athleticism and feats that redefine our belief of what is humanly possible. Those who posses talent attract the attention of a global audience and give brands and sports agencies the power to captivate minds, sway loyalties and drive sales. Even volatile personalities aren't enough to block an endorsement. Just think of Luis Suarez and Eric Cantona.
Examine SportsPro's 2014 list of most marketable sports stars and it reveals F1 driver, Lewis Hamilton, cricketer, Virat Kohli and NFL brand-favourite, Robert Griffin III, form the top three. Whilst none are unattractive, you wouldn't expect to see them fronting campaigns were they in another line of work. In sports PR though, their audience appeal is vast. Hamilton, with his seven-figure twitter following, is currently one the best drivers in one of the most popular sports in the world, which will soon expand into new markets with races in Russia, Mexico and Azerbaijan. Griffin III won the college football Heisman Trophy and was the number two pick of the 2012 NFL draft. The event enjoys almost cult status in America making Griffin a sport PR delight. Despite his rookie status, sales of his jersey broke single-season NFL records and he quickly signed deals with Subway, EvoShield and Adidas. Kohli also partners with Adidas alongside Clear and Nestle and has taken over the mantle of Sachin Tendulkar in a country where cricket is worshipped. Looking to the rest of SportsPro's top ten, Sloane Stevens, Usain Bolt and Neymar all feature; only Cristiano Ronaldo's glaring good looks break the mould, though he is admired for his ability on the pitch far more than his perfectly coiffed hair.
Connecting with customers is crucial and so it is vital to find what appeals to audiences in order to build engagement. In sport, brands know talent is attractive and choose their ambassadors accordingly, aligning with the interests of their desired targets.