Struggles on field cost Miami Dolphins players endorsement opportunities

The players of the Dolphins’ heyday could expect to earn thousands in endorsements. Not so much anymore.

09/23/2012 12:01 AM

08/31/2013 7:52 PM

Not too long ago, Floyd Raglin would go weeks without reaching for his wallet at lunch.

Businesses would line up to woo Raglin, a local sports-marketing wheeler-dealer, with hopes that the Dolphins’ magic might rub off on their products. Brand developers eagerly paid Raglin’s clients — including Dolphins players of that time — thousands of dollars for public appearances that lasted an hour or two.

The Dolphins were just that hot.

“It was a no-brainer back in the day,” said Raglin, a onetime Dolphin receiver and now CEO of Miami Beach-based Floyd Sports Marketing.

“But you can’t give those guys away right now. There’s just no value for the companies.”

A decade of futility and — even worse — irrelevance is hitting Dolphins players where it hurts the most.

These days, Raglin says, current Dolphins are willing to show up at car dealerships or supermarkets for as little as $500 — and still can’t get promotional work.

“It’s hard to sell something when you don’t even know what to sell,” Raglin said.

By most every recordable metric — including historically low attendance and television ratings — the Dolphins are in the midst of an unprecedented slump. For the first time ever, the Dolphins are not the 500-pound gorilla on the South Florida sports landscape.

Just three months after hundreds of thousands of adoring fans lined Biscayne Boulevard for the Miami Heat’s victory lap through town, tens of thousands of empty seats dotted Sun Life Stadium for the Dolphins’ season opener.

That crash in interest, for sure, has affected the organization the most. But the players’ supplemental income, earned from appearances and advertisements, has seen collateral damage.

In an era when LeBron James hauls in $40 million annually in endorsements, Reggie Bush — the star of a largely anonymous team — shills for skin-care products and gym memberships.

“I would say it’s probably tapered off a little bit; that’s obviously a given,” said Bush, who at one time earned $1 million annually from Adidas and appeared in national spots on behalf of Pizza Hut and Subway.

“We have to take advantage of the passion of football here,” Bush added. “We’ve got to help fire that up, keep that going because that’s going to help us down the road.”

Dan Marino, for one, is living proof. Retired for 13 years now, the Hall of Fame quarterback is still cashing in on his remarkable career.

On every other commercial break, there’s Marino pitching the Maroone car dealership empire, with which he has a longtime partnership. He has also cut ads for Papa Johns and Nutrisystem since leaving the game, and this spring, Marino, 51, became a spokesman for AARP.

During his playing career, Marino’s connection with Isotoner gloves was so strong that Jim Carrey spoofed the ad campaign in his cult hit, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.

Hard to believe, but it’s been nearly two decades since “Laces out, Dan,” became a national catchphrase. The years since have not been kind to the Dolphins’ brand, CEO Mike Dee concedes.

“At the end of the day, you are what your record says you are,” Dee said.

“It’s been a rough decade. Winning and having a team that people are excited about is at the center of everything you do.”

They haven’t done much of either lately. Miami’s last playoff victory came in 2000. The Dolphins have gone 39-59 since the start of the 2006 season. And their victory Sunday against Oakland was the Dolphins’ first win in a home opener since 2005.

They hung tough for longer than can be reasonably expected, but Dolphins fans have finally had enough. The announced attendance for Sunday’s game was just 54,245, the smallest crowd for a home opener in decades. The team needed a 24-hour extension to sell enough tickets to get this Sunday’s game against the rival New York Jets on television. And season-ticket sales are down some 30 percent from just six years ago, although Dee says he expects they will surpass last year’s rock-bottom figure of 42,584.

As for the Week 1 television ratings in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale market, they were far and away the lowest for any NFL home city in the league. Although the rating rebounded somewhat in Week 2, the local market still lagged far behind much of the nation.

“They’re just not part of the community,” said Bruce Turkel, a Miami-based brand manager who has designed print ads, television spots and websites for companies hoping to improve their image.

“You see Dwyane Wade and LeBron James everywhere, in advertisements, publications. But beyond the hard-core fan base, people are hard-pressed to name the [Dolphins] players.”

The organization has taken steps to change that perception. Every Tuesday, players fan out across the area for charitable appearances. Just this week, the club handed out a total of $20,000 in scholarships to four academically gifted high schoolers.

Plus, hope and momentum can spring up quickly, and with the Dolphins’ manhandling of the Raiders at home last week, some might give the team a second look. Fanatics.com, an online apparel distributor, said sales of Dolphins gear doubled after last Sunday’s win.

Still, their 10-year history of losing makes for a lasting headwind. A lousy economy and evolving marketing approach hasn’t helped matters either. Many Dolphins have an apparel deal with one of the major shoe companies, but don’t think they’re making LeBron-like money from Nike or Adidas.

Cameron Wake, the Dolphins’ best defensive player and an appealing candidate for endorsements, given his gregarious personality, keeps his compensation from Reebok in the bottom drawer of his locker: a jumbled collection of sneakers and cleats.

Companies, more and more, are paying their clients in trade, not in cash.

David Canter is a Broward-based sports agent who represents six current Dolphins. Marketing opportunities still exist even in this climate, Canter argues, but agents need to be more creative to get at them.

Sean Smith, a Dolphins cornerback represented by Canter, has a deal with Remix, the boutique watch line that’s unique because of its bold, customizable colors.

Most everyone’s on social media these days, but few have figured out how to monetize it. Canter’s clients all have accounts on the subscription-based VIPWink.me, through which fans can send stars prioritized Twitter messages.

Furthermore, several Dolphins players are members of FanShout.me, a service that allows the public to order custom video messages from celebrities and athletes — for a fee, of course.

“Put it out there: Cameron Wake is looking for endorsements,” Wake said. “I haven’t gotten any Dancing With The Stars invitations.”

Wake refers, of course, to Jason Taylor, the former Dolphin great who appeared on the popular show in 2008. Taylor was a marketer’s dream — athletically gifted, charismatic and handsome.

But he retired after last season, and no one has yet emerged to take his place, although Bush, the former Southern Cal star, is a prime candidate. Bush has the looks and the panache, and although it’s still early in the season, is playing like a superstar.

Still, there’s one variable that supersedes all others.

“It comes with winning, obviously,” Bush said. “That’s going to be on us.”

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