Ali not the greatest endorser of all-time

Boxing legend Muhammed Ali shadowboxes during a press conference in December 2005.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

BOB MOON: Muhammad Ali turned 65 this week, on Wednesday, to be specific. That same day, some new snack foods from the GOAT food and beverage company hit store shelves in five college towns. Never heard of GOAT? The G-O-A-T stands for GREATEST OF ALL TIME. Ali created the company in conjunction with Mars, the folks who bring us M&Ms. This got our sports commentator Diana Nyad thinking about Ali's career in endorsements. Welcome, Diana

DIANA NYAD: Pleasure to be here Bob.

MOON: So he floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee and he's the king of everything it seems, but not the king of endorsements I guess.

NYAD: You know, exactly right, it's kind of crazy. As a matter of fact when I started reading about this Mars deal with the chips and things that are coming out and I thought, you know I just can't in my memory — though maybe I'm too young and I never get to say that anymore — that I don't remember, maybe he had some bang-up endorsements back in the day with Everlast or somebody. And I started to research and found out that the truth is, he is sort of the most underachieving endorser in the history of great sports heroes.

MOON: Well I was under the impression that he hadn't really given up his name, if you will, to endorsements until recently but that's not the case.

NYAD: Yeah, no I agree with that too. I thought, well you know 'cause we always see Ali, he travels to Rwanda with relief money he's raised, he went to Cuba a couple of years ago with a million dollars worth of medical supplies, he and his wife Lonnie support a soup kitchen in Louisville. And these are the types of, shall we say, high-minded, altruistic sort of things that he lends his likeness and his name to. And I thought well now that's why he hasn't had any big endorsements, but the truth is, when I looked into it, he has represented potato chips and cookies, he had a clothing line business, there was a roach trap business he was into, he had a thing called Champ Burgers for a while — all of them abject failures. So it's no that he — as you and I probably thought and I think most people — not that he never went down the road of endorsements, he just hasn't been very successful at it.

MOON: How can somebody be so huge in the minds of his fans and yet not have these endorsements?

NYAD: There was one study I was reading that takes athletes and puts them into categories of either heroes or celebrities. Nobody hits both of those categories higher than Muhammad Ali.

MOON: But now he's sold his name and it remains to be seen I guess whether he will sell snack food, for example.

NYAD: Yeah well supposedly this deal he made with this company CKX was for $50 million, so that they could use his name and likeness and market it pretty much any way they want. It's an open-ended deal. That's 80 percent of his likeness so he has 20 percent of the time he can use it. And supposedly this year already they've generated about $7 million. Now, $7 million? You know, let's take a look at Tiger Woods' contracts. Of course Ali is many, many years retired, can barely speak anymore, so maybe $7 million is not a bad paycheck for a year.

MOON: Not a bad return.

NYAD: Not bad.

MOON: Diana Nyad, thank you very much.

NYAD: Bob Moon, I thank you.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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