The NFL Scouting Combine is a lot like speed dating—appearances trump substance. Executives make snap judgments about prospects. Players are valued by physical measurements and statistics. The fastest football players are like the most attractive girls at a bar waiting to be picked up by rich suitors who will drop them without hesitation the moment they find a more attractive—or faster—replacement. When it comes to the NFL, the corporations have all the power. Not just the league and teams, but the sponsors as well.
Accepting these truths about NFL business makes adidas’s promise to sign the prospect with the best 40-yard dash time to an endorsement deal smell like a desperate grab for headlines. The news, first reported by Darren Rovell at ESPN.com, seems particularly strange considering NFL players aren’t allowed to wear adidas gear during games; rules only permit Nike and Under Armour apparel. Would sponsoring the fastest player help adidas slice into the NFL money pie? Probably not, even if that player was good. The fact that the contest is predetermined for a single skill rather than an overall body of work is dumbfounding, since speed does not guarantee ability.
Adidas would not disclose the amount of the shoe deal, but the company may soon be paying Marquise Goodwin, an undersized Texas wide receiver who ran his 40-yard dash in 4.27 seconds, the second fastest time ever recorded at the NFL combine. Goodwin scored six touchdowns during his senior season, and experts do not expect him to be selected in the first round of the draft.
The size of the contract is irrelevant to the marketing gimmick. Adidas earns more than $17 billion of annual revenue and will likely pay Goodwin in the low six-figures should he accept the deal. The point is, the brand comes across as unnecessarily feeble. If Goodwin accepts, nobody cares. Adidas won’t dent the cleat market. If Goodwin turns them down, adidas looks like the last kid picked in gym class. Even if Goodwin signs with adidas and becomes a superstar in a few years (which is extremely unlikely), he could jump to Nike at any moment for more money and more exposure.
Instead of dreaming up fool’s errands, adidas should really be asking themselves how they lost out on last year’s NFL sponsorship deal to Nike, and then found a way to get leapfrogged by Under Armour as a serious player in the apparel sector. Last year, adidas signed the dynamic Robert Griffin III to an endorsement deal that was the lone bright spot in its football business plan. The worst thing the company could do is jeopardize that momentum over a publicity stunt and a few headlines.
The head-scratching move comes a few days before adidas launches their new Energy Boost running shoe, which as Tom Van Riper of Forbes describes, is supposed to help the company challenge Nike for sneaker supremacy. Valuing speed is important, but winning over customers is a marathon, not a sprint.