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Junior the Ad-man

By Gil Sennett · August 17th, 2000 · Ad Nauseam
Setting: Afternoon. Griffey kitchen.

Ken Griffey Jr. is scratching his head. Sorting through all those pesky bank statements and balancing his checkbook is getting in the way of a quick game of catch with his son, Trey. What a bummer. Just then, Ken Griffey Sr. walks in.

"Hey son," he says. "Don't you know that Provident Bank offers Access Checking, a checking account set up specifically for your needs?"

"But is it easy to set up?" Junior asks.

"It's easier than hitting the ball to left field, son," Senior jabs.

"Wow, thanks pop," says Junior, flashing the million-dollar smile.

Senior grabs a nearby baseball, saying, "Don't thank me. Thank Provident Bank. Now how 'bout that game of catch?"

Fade to black. Provident logo dissolve. Cue voiceover.

Expect commercials eerily similar -- and equally corny -- for the next seven years, folks. Provident Bank -- controlled by Reds' sugar daddy Carl Lindner -- announced last week that it had come to terms with both Griffeys for a hefty and long-term endorsement deal.

That announcement comes on the heels of Provident's signing of Anthony Munoz to a five-year deal. This makes perfect sense, of course, because these wealthy athletes know exactly what I'm going through with my overdrawn fees and late payment charges.


I won't pretend to know when it happened, but at some point in the last 25 years, sports figures began to be valued more for their advertising pull than for their athletic ability. A sports career, after all, is finite. A good pitchman job can last a lifetime. At least that's what Michael Jordan is proving.

But despite the prevailing "make every cent you can now, because in two seasons you could be nobody" attitude, athletes shouldn't take every ad deal that comes along. They should consider its affect on their image.

Faithful readers of this column -- both of you -- already know my feelings about the pitiful Furniture Fair commercials featuring Munoz. In addition to not being entertained by them, I can't help but have less respect for Munoz the football player because of them. And that's not good.

For that's the fine line athletes walk by prostituting themselves in ads. Will it enhance their star power on their respective playing fields or in that sport's lore? (See Tiger Woods.) Will it not affect it at all? (See Anna Kournikova, the most marketable non-champ in the business.) Or will it diminish respect? (See the awful Cris Collinsworth-Jim Varney ads of yesteryear.)

Suddenly, it's not just about making a quick dime. Now the discriminating athlete has to decide if the project is good enough, or if he/she has enough charisma to pull it off without coming across like a grade-A jerk. Dearest Anthony should take a lesson from his new Provident Bank colleague.

Junior has been a Red for six months, yet the anticipated deluge of Griffey on our airwaves has yet to happen. The city expected No. 30 to hawk all of Uncle Carl's wares, from ice cream cones to supplemental insurance. We expected his voice on every third radio ad played during the ball game, endorsing this car dealer or that home improvement center.

But Junior is intelligently playing it low-key. Mainly because he can. His phat Pepsi deal affords him the luxury to be picky. And by not taking every offer sent his way, he is more valuable for it. True, the deluge may still happen. We could get Junior-ed out, for those who aren't already. (Maybe it was the non-stop coverage we experienced from spring training through his first Reds homer.) But I bet young Griffey has too many smart marketing minds working for him to let this happen.

Still, there is an intrinsic pride I feel every time I see a national spot with him wearing the Reds ball cap. Say what you will about him, but kids around the country are thinking Cincinnati is a pretty cool place to live right now.



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