Move over Alexander Hamilton and Ben Franklin. The modern pitchmen for Massachusetts banks are party boy Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and retired Bruins standout Ray Bourque.
Professional athletes, past and present, are showing up more frequently in bank television commercials and advertising campaigns, whether it’s for a small credit union or the state’s largest community bank. They’re hauling couches, taking slap shots, and sliding into bases to promote financial institutions, while boosting their own earnings.
The Founding Fathers may evoke stability, trust, and tradition, the ideal messengers for nervous consumers during a recession. But athletes provide glamour, excitement, and energy for better times — and for banks looking to grow.
“It’s a sports-driven town. Our local heroes, our local celebrities are sports figures,” said Andy Ravens, a spokesman for Eastern Bank. The bank paid Gronkowski, known for touchdown catches and traveling parties in his “Sinners Bus,” an undisclosed sum in the run-up to the Super Bowl to surprise a customer with a couch delivery. That video went viral, earning Eastern attention from national media outlets, from Sports Illustrated to Yahoo.com. “Anything Rob was doing at the time, turned to gold.”
Eastern also works with retired quarterback Doug Flutie and had a relationship with defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, until he left New England recently for the Houston Texans.
Other banks also expect to score with local sports heroes.
Berkshire Bank, based in Pittsfield, signed Bourque and Boston Bruins player Milan Lucic as spokesmen earlier this month as it tries to make a name for itself outside Western Massachusetts. Salem Five Bank has Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia as pitchman and developed an animated series around him.
For athletes, these endorsement deals can be an easy way to make some cash, burnish their reputations, draw attention, and connect with the community.
Showing up at a bank branch opening for a two-hour stint to mingle with high-value bank clients can earn athletes as much as $40,000, depending on their name recognition, sports agents and public relations officials said. Multiyear contracts involving commercials, billboards, and events can run up to as much as $500,000.
But that’s small change compared to what the top echelon of pro athletes can draw. Forbes estimated last year that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady earned about $8 million as the face of athletic wear company, Under Armour, and shoe brand, Ugg for Men.
For athletes who don’t have national reputations, regional endorsements, for banks and local restaurants, are an appealing option, said Stephen A. Greyser, a sports marketing specialist at Harvard Business School. “It helps their reputation, makes them more visible in community,” Greyser said.
It can also raise their value to the team, which may not want to lose a well-liked, well-known player, he said.
Another bonus for players: It’s an ego boost.
“It’s fun being important,” said Cleon Daskalakis, founder of Celebrity Marketing Inc. in Boston, which helped ink the deal between Berkshire Bank and the hockey players. “It’s a feather in the cap, as well. You’re a spokesman for a financial institution.”
For banks, it may seem risky to trust their brand to athletes, some of whom can get in trouble for off-the-field antics and many of whom struggle financially after their careers end. In a 2013 study, financial website Mint.com found that 78 percent of National Football League players filed for bankruptcy.
Poor investments, overspending, and entrusting their money to the wrong advisers, were to blame, the study found.
Teams do a better job of educating players about money, agents said, but banks also must make sure players fit the image they want to portray.
“You do have to be very, very careful when you choose,” said Martha Acworth, a spokeswoman for Salem Five.