(Reuters) - At perhaps the most difficult time in his storybook football career, Tom Brady’s brand value might sag a bit with the “Deflategate” scandal but probably won’t collapse, experts say.
The New England Patriots quarterback is one of the biggest names in sports today, a four-time Super Bowl champion and three-time Super Bowl Most Valuable Player who until now has kept his nose clean over 15 years in the National Football League.
And if that’s not enough, he and his wife, Brazilian super model Gisele Bundchen, might be one of the most in-demand couples around.
But Brady faces a possible NFL suspension after a report released on Wednesday by the league linked him to the deliberate under-inflation of game balls for January’s AFC title game against the Indianapolis Colts. Under-inflating a football can help a quarterback improve his grip and control over the ball.
Brady maintains he knew nothing about the incident.
So far, none of Brady’s sponsors, like Under Armour, Movado or Glaceau SmartWater, have made any signs of pulling their support.
Brady might lose some “sensitive” sponsors over time, Michael Cramer, director of the Texas Program in Sports and Media at the University of Texas, but seems to have “staying power” with them.
Bündchen’s role in buttressing Brady cannot be underestimated, he said, as she maintains a certain cache with advertisers.
“Having the relationship with Gisele and being the beautiful couple, and all that goes with that, helps,” Cramer said.
“But if you ask me if a high-end sponsor still want him to wear their watch or something else that is sort of glamorous, I think they would,” Cramer added.
Sometimes sponsors quickly distance themselves from their pitchmen. This might not be the case with Brady.
“I don’t expect sponsors to depart in droves as we’ve seen with Tiger Woods or Lance Armstrong,” said Jason Maloni, senior vice president at Levick, a strategic communications firm, referring to the sponsorship losses that followed the damaging revelations about star golfer’s personal life and the cyclist’s doping.
“At the end of the day, these sponsors are going to have to make a determination: does Tom Brady underscore our brand, do we help ourselves by associating ourselves with his brand? And I think the answer is yes,” Maloni added.
Maloni thinks the league will have to “come down hard” on Brady and applauded the NFL for “coming out with such a thorough report that does seems to take to task its golden boy.”
Brady has established himself as one of the top quarterbacks in NFL history, but the cheating accusations may well threaten his reputation in the final years of his career.
“If you loved Tom Brady last week, you probably still love him this week,” Maloni said, but added that NFL players and coaches “might have more to say about his legacy in the future.”
Jerry Izenberg of the (New Jersey) Star Ledger, one of only two daily newspaper journalists to have covered every Super Bowl, said the scandal will not tarnish Brady’s standing.
“On the day they found those deflated footballs, he could have been throwing snowballs and won that game, they won by so much,” he said.
The Patriots’ 45-7 victory over Indianapolis propelled them into the Super Bowl, which New England won 28-24 over the Seattle Seahawks.
Reporting by Steve Ginsburg in Washington; Additional reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Mary Milliken and Will Dunham