By ALAN SNEL
Oct 1, 2005
TAMPA - A mere three games into his NFL career, Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams has captured national headlines for his record-setting on-field success and tens of thousands of dollars for his off-field business deals.
Williams' agent is trying to leverage a deal with 12 local Cadillac dealerships into a national agreement. Williams has a three-year deal with Nike and a one-year, six-figure agreement with a New York memorabilia company, said Ben Dogra, the player's agent. Dogra declined to identify the company, which hired Williams for private autograph signings.
Under his deal with local Cadillac dealers, the former Auburn star drives an SLR Roadster. In return, the halfback who helped the Bucs win their first three games will appear at Cadillac-related functions, said Jimmy Snyder, vice president of Ed Morse Cadillac in Tampa.
Williams has become a regular on NFL highlight shows and is the first running back in league history to start his career with three straight 100-yard games. Williams was a high school player when he got the nickname from a Birmingham, Ala., TV broadcaster who said he ran as smoothly as a Cadillac.
"What he's looking for is to build relationships and not just make short-term gains," Dogra said. "We don't want to overload him to make short-term dollars. He's not a fancy guy. He's not into glitz and glitter."
Beware The Name Trap
Marketing experts said the Cadillac dealership deal was a no-brainer for Williams, whose record start prompted the Pro Football Hall of Fame to display the shoes and gloves he wore during the Bucs' 17-16 win against the Packers in Green Bay on Sunday. Even Bucs coach Jon Gruden this year joked about Williams cutting a Cadillac deal.
"I feel good about the endorsements, but it's something I let my agent handle. Football is not forever, so maybe when I get a couple of years under my belt, I can get into other businesses," Williams said. "But right now, it's all about football."
Two sports-marketing experts said while the Cadillac deal is a logical arrangement, they noted the Cadillac moniker is so all-consuming that it could scare away other companies from seeking sponsorships at this stage of Williams' career.
"With the nickname, it's almost become synonymous with the Cadillac brand. But it may be an issue with other advertisers who want to tap into his fame," said Tom Ward, who owns Southpaw Sports, a sports-business consulting firm in Charlotte, N.C.
"They might have a tough time fighting through the Cadillac image because it's engrained in the Cadillac nickname," Ward said.
Paul Swangard, director of a sports marketing program at the University of Oregon, thought likewise.
"The Cadillac dealership deal is an obvious and natural connection. But it's like a building that has a naming rights deal. It might prevent him right now from other deals," said Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center.
"Ultimately, his success on the field would open some new doors."
South Florida sports marketer Scott Becher agreed that it would not be a good idea for other car dealerships to sign up Williams as a pitchman. But Becher said as long as Williams excels on the field, he should have appeal for companies in other industries.
"If he's playing great like a superstar, Cadillac is just his name and superstar is his identity," said Becher, owner of Sports & Sponsorships in South Florida. "Remember, it's just three games."
Indeed, the NFL's top rusher enters only his fourth professional game Sunday when the Bucs host the Detroit Lions at 1 p.m. That résumé hardly compares to those of the high-profile NFL players with prolific sponsorship deals such as quarterbacks Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts and the Philadelphia Eagles' Donovan McNabb.
'A Local Guy,' For Now
At this juncture of his career, Williams' appeal also resonates more in the Southeast than it does nationally, said Jeff Chown, managing director of The Managing Arm, an entertainment and sports marketing agency in Dallas.
"Right now, he's a local guy. Right now, the marketing interest will be locally based. He needs to sustain a longer period of success with some team success to become a national figure," Chown said
"The most effective way for an athlete to get his name out there is to be unique. In order to be unique, you have to be different or be special on the field or off. What he's done in three games is unique, but it's not a monumental achievement that will differentiate him in the marketing world," Chown said.
It was an easy decision for Cadillac to enlist Williams at the local level, said Kevin Jones, a marketing official for Cadillac's Southeast office in Atlanta.
"Even when my kids bring in the newspaper, they say Cadillac's on the front page," said Snyder, vice president of the Cadillac dealership on Fletcher Avenue.
Carnell "Cadillac" Williams has signed promotional deals with Nike, an unnamed memorabilia company and 12 Tampa Bay-area Cadillac dealerships.
The road ahead
Marketing pros are mixed over whether Williams' nickname will be synonymous with the carmaker or whether he'll be able to overcome the name association.
The on-field feats
Williams is the first NFL rookie to debut with three straight games with more than 100 yards rushing.