In Super Bowl Week, Hall Of Famers Return — As Salesmen

Endorsement deals can offer retired players millions beyond their sports or TV contracts. In return for these millions, these former Hall of Famers plug the product they're endorsing. But some take the endorsements to an extreme, sprinkling brand names into conversations that have nothing to do with those products.

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AUDIE CORNISH, BYLINE: In the run up to the Super Bowl, demand for former players and coaches to interview is high. Dozens of sports radio stations have set up camp in New York City's Radio Row. Many interviewees have leveraged that demand into short-term celebrity endorsements. NPR's Mike Pesca caught the pitches.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Radio Row, Sheraton Hotel, New York City. A station that called itself The Team is here. So is The Ticket. There are a few fans, a sports animal and a sports carnivore. They're talking gap responsibility, debating how often to put eight men in the box. In other words, the raison d'etre of being a sports carnivore. But on occasion, other topics seep in.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE INTERVIEW)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Now you're here obviously with the NFL Network and also with Verizon today and...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Tell us about the bowling event...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Tell us about promote53.com, Chris.

DAN MARINO: Do you get more questions about being on CBS pregame, being a hall of fame quarterback or Nutrisystem?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: I think Denver is going to run away with it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: All right. Now this week - tell me what you're plugging this week. Www...

DAN PATRICK: You brought in bags of M&M'S here. Thank you.

ED JONES: GoBowling.com.

PESCA: The sport is football, but the pitch is omnipresent. Paulie Pabst has been to 10 Super Bowls as a producer for "The Dan Patrick Radio Show."

PAULIE PABST: If I ever see a guest without a sponsor, I'm wondering how it happened.

PESCA: Talk shows need guests. Guests found a way to be paid. No one in the circle seems to be complaining. Pabst says when he started, a quarter of his show's guests had a product to plug whereas now it's the norm.

PABST: Sometimes you'll be like, what is this product here? Like, Emmitt Smith today, it was a product about gout, and I don't know much about gout. I do now after having Emmitt Smith on.

PESCA: Hall of fame running back Emmitt Smith. Companies figure might as well get the most qualified pro to slide between the quid and quo. The guest Dan Patrick was talking M&M'S with in that montage was Joe Montana. Dan Marino was talking Nutrisystem. The bowling enthusiast you heard was Ed "Too Tall" Jones. One year, former bears coach Mike Ditka endorsed toilet paper.

Jimmy Shapiro who links companies to celebrities wouldn't be surprised if Ditka netted upwards of $100,000 for that endorsement. Even non-athletes get in on the action. One year, Shapiro tried to pair Xbox with the actor Jerry Ferrara. But Ferrara's agent asked for the moon.

JIMMY SHAPIRO: And I don't think Ferrara ever saw it because the price that he quoted me at was $150,000 for, like, three hours on Radio Row, which is ridiculous for a frigging turtle from "Entourage."

PESCA: Bob Broderick, strategic media consultant with RBT(sic) Media, represents athletes and coaches. He says clients can get between five and $20,000 for a week's work. This week, Broderick's client, Super Bowl-winning coach Brian Billick, is plugging SeatGeek.com

BOB BRODERICK: He's probably done 40-plus radio shows. We also did some TV. We did live CNBC yesterday. And an executive from SeatGeek said yesterday that the CNBC segment alone was worth it. They saw traffic almost four times their normal average.

PESCA: Broderick says years ago, producers would chafe at allowing B- or C-list players to shill on their air. He hasn't heard an objection for a few years. To understand the demand, look at Bill Romanowski, former player in five Super Bowls, current owner of a nutrition company and partner to Smoothie King. I talked to him on Tuesday.

BILL ROMANOWSKI: I did 20 interviews yesterday. I'll do probably 20 today, 20 or 30 tomorrow, 20 or 30 the next day.

PESCA: Where does he get the energy?

ROMANOWSKI: The Lean1 Smoothie. It's a fat-burning meal replacement. Seventeen...

PESCA: To get Romanowski to talk to me, I promised to let him get a plug in, but I still reserved the right to fade out in the interest of keeping one radio network relatively non-commercial. Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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