The sports-gear manufacturer Unequal Technologies was reaping the financial rewards after taking a punt on controversial Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick in its advertising campaigns, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
The collaboration began last November when representatives of Vick, who had been wearing retrofitted Unequal football pads all season and was converted to the product, approached the company to discuss him becoming its official spokesman. The opportunity sparked disagreement in the boardroom.
"One of our consultants said we would be committing 'business suicide' if we hired Michael Vick," recalled Unequal chief executive Rob Vito, who had been involved in fitting the player with the specially tailored equipment.
Even with Vick's brand tarnished from the highly publicized dog-fighting scandal, which landed him in jail for a year and a half and prompted companies, including Nike and Coca-Cola, to drop him, Vito sensed an opportunity.
After visiting Vick at home, where he talked about his passion for reducing sports-related concussions, Vito was sold. And because of the quarterback's dazzling skill on the field, he was convinced that the public sentiment would eventually sway in Vick's favor.
News that the quarterback had signed his first endorsement deal since leaving prison caused a media explosion. "Within 24 hours, we had about 10 million hits on the website, and I was on CNN, Bloomberg, Fox, ABC and CBS," Unequal chief executive Rob Vito recalled. "We had so many hits, it crashed our site."
The exposure gave Vito a chance to talk about Unequal's insoles, golf grips, sneakers and body padding, which are currently available only on the company's website. "The sales went up 1,000 percent when Mike came on board," Vito said. Since then, sales have settled in at about triple what they were a year ago.
The deal requires Vick to wear Unequal's apparel at six public appearances during the two-year contract. Over that time, Unequal has the right to use Vick's image, likeness and brand, Vito said. Slogans will include, "Unequal is the reason for my season."
Vick's first appearance for Unequal will be at the National Athletic Training Association meeting in June, which will help Unequal reach coaches, trainers and other sports personnel.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Vick said the endorsement allows him to address the issue of concussions as he also tries to rebuild his blemished public image.
Prison was "a time that I spent dreaming and visualizing myself coming back and doing great things. And just praying for an opportunity," he said.