Brand It like Beckham

By Brownell, Ginanne; Flynn, Emily et al. | Newsweek International, June 30, 2003 | Go to article overview

Brand It like Beckham


Brownell, Ginanne, Flynn, Emily, Takayama, Hideko, Kelly, Ronna, Newsweek International


Here's a test of your celebrity savvy. Who deserves top billing: the noble statesman and internationally revered icon who liberated his people or the 28-year-old millionaire sportsman with the squeaky voice and ever-changing hairstyle? That was the question keeping London newspaper editors up all night when Nelson Mandela met David Beckham last month. The Guardian made no bones about its answer: "The former president of South Africa was yesterday lucky enough to meet one of the world's most gifted footballers." They were joking. We think.

In the constellation of 21st-century celebrities, Beckham is more than an icon; he's a brand. Through his feats on the playing field and his exemplary behavior off, Beckham has become the hottest marketing machine in the sports world since Michael Jordan. The Adidas football boot he wears is the world's No. 1 seller. Since Beckham became Vodafone's international face in 2002, global sales have increased by one third. Of course, Beckham loves football--he's made that plain on the pitch--but in moneymaking terms, football is little more than a sideline.

Beckham's sponsorship deals last year more than doubled his salary, which was the highest in soccer. Interbrand, a global consultancy, says that the Beckham brand is worth 50 million pounds. (Vodafone and Pepsi each pay him 2 million pounds per year.) As long as he keeps playing football his cachet should continue to grow, says Interbrand chairman Rita Clifton. For Adidas, which in recent years paid Beckham between 2 million pounds and 4 million pounds annually, the investment is about to pay off. "Beckham's effect on sales will be worth 1 billion pounds over the next four years," says Beckham biographer Ellis Cashmore. "We are looking at a figure similar to that which Jordan pulled in for Nike."

Everyone wants a piece of Beckham. On June 18 Real Madrid made a play for the Manchester United star, coughing up a transfer payment of 25 million pounds to his British club--on top of the 4.2 million pounds a year it offered Beckham. But Real wanted the footballer as much for his face as his feet. In marketing terms, Beckham could be Real's passport to Asia, where Man U--with 17 million fans--reigns in popularity over all sports teams. According to the marketing consultants FutureBrand, Beckham could shift 5 million of those fans to Real's side. …

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