Are Michael Sam and Visa a Bad Match?

Study says Adidas is a better fit for the openly gay NFL player

Michael Sam, the NFL's first openly gay player, has been one of the most talked about athletes this season, but his only sponsorship deal so far is with Visa.

Networked Insights recently completed a study that gauged supporters' collective reactions to Sam's Visa deal and attempted to project which brands should sign with the St. Louis Rams defensive end.

The marketing data analysis firm used its SocialSense platform, which gathers data from open social media and private customer networks, to review nearly 800,000 social conversations across 6,000 brands between February (when Sam announced he was gay) and July (when he accepted the Arthur Ashe Award at the ESPYs).

Using a tool the company calls its Networked Insights Affinity Ranker, analysts determined a score for each brand on a scale of 3 (most positive) to -3 (most negative). Adidas topped the list with a score of 1.575, while Visa had a slightly negative rating. This low affinity score suggests that the credit card company took a risk when partnering with Sam.

The findings suggest other brands that would benefit from pursuing Sam, including top choice Adidas, followed by Saucony and Coach.

Brand Score
Adidas 1.575
Saucony 1.264
Coach 0.936
Nike 0.900
Netflix 0.864
Taco Bell 0.797
Target 0.799
Marvel 0.773
US Airways 0.751
Visa -0.381

Rick Miller, vice president at Networked Insights, stressed the importance of using online dialogue to gauge the potential impact of endorsing a celebrity.

"Some brands may still be reflecting on whether to employ Sam because they're not sure how customers will respond," Miller said. "By tapping into millions of conversations on social media, companies can now determine how well a celebrity aligns with their brand and what message will best resonate."

The study also analyzed the types of comments users made about Sam. A majority expressed admiration, while others were neutral or negative.

Topic February Announcement July ESPY Awards Speech
Admiration 25 percent  21 percent 
Merely Sharing the News 21 percent 11 percent
Expected NFL Reaction 13 percent 4 percent
Media Fatigue 12 percent  7 percent
Announcement Not Courageous 8 percent 17 percent
Comments About Athletic Ability 8 percent  7 percent
Homophobic Remarks 5 percent 9 percent
Curiosity About His Draft Stock 5 percent N/A
Other 3 percent 24 percent

To ensure a successful endorsement, Miller said, Visa should focus on the player's achievements and abilities.

"The company nailed the message in its 'How You Should Judge Michael Sam' spot," Miller said. "For good sponsor candidates, the brand message they tie to Sam will be as important as the decision to sponsor him. The wrong message will fail, even if the brand is the right fit."