|Lucky Chucky: No one more marketable than Gruden
By Darren Rovell
SAN DIEGO -- The league MVP, the defensive player of the year and at least three future Hall of Famers will be featured in Super Bowl XXXVII.
But the man who has the most business to gain by winning a title is more likely to be drenched in Gatorade than to have eye black running from his smiling face. That's because he's the coach.
His throng of fans -- both men and women -- are growing larger by the day. And for companies hoping they can sign him to pitch their product, good luck. The asking price is climbing by the minute.
"I've never seen anything like this," said his agent, Bob Lamonte. He said Monday he received about two dozen calls in the first couple hours of business from companies interested in either speaking engagements or marketing opportunities involving Gruden.
"I don't know what would happen if they won the Super Bowl; it would be frightening," said Lamonte. "Normally, you find a coach that might be a good-looking guy, but he's not a great football coach. Or you have a great football coach that's not especially good looking. But never before have we seen the combination that we see in Jon."
The 39-year-old Gruden -- along with Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and Texas Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez -- made People Magazine's list of "The 50 Most Beautiful People in 2001." But not many sex symbols also possess a resemblance to a mass-murdering doll that kills people with a knife and a claw hammer.
With Super Bowl XXXVII merchandise on nearly every San Diego street corner, the most coveted collectible might be Chucky dolls dressed as Gruden. Dolls, complete with a headset, whistle and a red jacket, were selling within minutes on eBay for $70 on Monday.
"I sold a good amount when he was with the Raiders, but business with the Bucs' fans has become great in the last couple weeks," said Mike Madriaga, a comic book and movie collectible dealer who says he has sold about 600 dolls over the past three years.
Madriaga believes prices for his Gruden dolls -- which come in a box that say, "Unofficial Jon Gruden Doll: The World's Most Notorious Coach" -- could surpass $100 each by the end of the week. That is, if NFL licensing police don't catch the San Diego resident and others who hope to capitalize off the coach's likeness, with Bucs logos on doll outfits, during Super Bowl time.
"There have been coaches that have become larger than life -- John Madden, Mike Ditka and Bill Parcells -- but what's interesting with Gruden is the sex appeal," said Bob Dorfman, executive creative director with Pickett Advertising in San Francisco. "Between that and the whole Chucky mythology, there could be some fun, creative advertising built around him."
That might change if the NFL follows through with its aggressive pursuit of merchandising opportunities. NFL officials conversed Monday morning about releasing a series of Gruden bobbleheads with different facial expressions should the Bucs win the Super Bowl, according to Perry Cooper, the league's director of database marketing.
Gruden, who appeared on the cover of the league's national merchandise catalog in August, could also be featured on officially licensed sideline photographs, Cooper said.
Gruden hasn't cashed in on his fame since he's done little in the corporate world. His only national deal came last year in a television campaign for Marriott, which included other coaches like Ditka. His speaking engagements are few and far between, but when he decides to do it, it's for no less than $50,000 -- a rate commanded by the likes of Pat Riley and Joe Paterno.
Some of his relative inactivity is due to his concentration on football. Others say Gruden wasn't permitted to do much marketing as long as he was under Al Davis' watch. But if the Buccaneers win the Super Bowl, and Gruden wants to make a buck or two, the opportunities could be endless.
"The last thing on his mind are off-the-field matters like this," Lamonte said. "He's the consummate professional that is totally focused on football."
But Lamonte knows that his annual business meeting in March with Gruden will likely be a bit longer this year. That's when Lamonte and his wife, Lynn, go through Gruden's endorsement and speaking opportunities for the upcoming months. If all goes according to Gruden's plan, they could be there for days.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at email@example.com.