Is Tim Howard the Perfect Brand Partner?

World Cup phenom already has deals with Nike, McDonald's—more on the way?

Following his gutsy performance for Team USA in the FIFA World Cup, goalkeeper Tim Howard is preparing for a big score.

The 35-year-old American, who also plays for Everton in England, became a media darling in the wake of America’s July 1 knockout-round loss to Belgium. Now, he’s looking to cash in on his newfound celebrity and break into the elite endorsement leagues. (He currently has six-figure deals with Nike and McDonald’s, making him a small fry in the rarified world of big-time sponsorships.)

“People’s perception of me may have changed in the past two weeks, but I haven’t changed a bit,” says Howard, who adds that he’s seeking the same kinds of deals as always: “blue-chip opportunities [with] really good companies with good reputations.” (Read more of our exclusive interview with Tim Howard, here.)

Neymar | Photo: Getty Images

Howard’s agent, Dan Segal of Wasserman Media Group, says his client has received dozens of offers in the past two weeks, and that he’s close—perhaps just days away—from inking deals with at least three national advertisers. “We’re looking for things consistent with his image,” which is down-to-earth and hardworking, rather than flashy or glitzy, Segal says. “We don’t feel in any way, shape or form a desperation to try and grab everything that comes along.”

Howard’s ascension stands in contrast to the fate that befell 22-year-old Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior (universally known as Neymar), the Brazilian striker who also plays for FC Barcelona in Europe. The 2014 World Cup was billed as Neymar’s showcase, and some predicted that he would enhance his superstar status by leading Team Brazil to a title in front of its home-country fans. Instead, Neymar will spend several weeks immobilized in a back brace after suffering a broken vertebra in Brazil’s quarterfinal victory over Colombia. (His team was routed 7-1 by Germany in the following round.)

In March, Neymar was feted as “The Next Pelé” by Time magazine, in a nod to his countryman who reigned as the global face of soccer a generation ago. SportsPro Media ranked Neymar as the world’s most marketable athlete, and this year he’ll earn $16 million from endorsements alone, per Forbes. The injury, however, puts his future, both on and off the field, in jeopardy. Needless to say, Neymar’s brand-building value will plummet if he can’t regain his form. Luckily, he won’t require surgery, and as long as he comes back healthy, he should reclaim his stature as a top endorser, experts say.

As for Howard, “Tim can make some money in the U.S. I wouldn’t call it a big payday compared to other athletes,” says Paul Danforth, head of global sales at CAA Sports. Manish Tripathi, a marketing professor at Emory University who focuses on sports, advises Howard to “make deals as soon as possible. Once the World Cup ends, the enthusiasm will wane. Think Landon Donovan after he had the big goal against Algeria in the last World Cup.”

The disparate circumstances of Howard and Neymar underscore key issues for brands seeking to leverage sports. Sometimes bankable stars get injured or sullied by scandals, limiting their value. And while signing Howard might seem like a good idea right now, he’s no youngster, and his glow could soon fade.

“With risk comes reward,” says Danforth. “With elite athletes, their global reach far outweighs the downside.” The synthesis of athletes and brands is nothing new—and the scope of such relationships is more profound than ever, with huge player, team and league deals seemingly announced every week. Experts say that all signs point to increasingly lucrative contracts for the foreseeable future.

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