Pacquiao stamps class as global celebrity

30/11/2009 09:26

MANILA, Philippines - No other Filipino athlete has been able to transcend national barriers to become a world-wide celebrity with Manny Pacquiao reaffirming his legacy as one of the all-time greats in boxing by capturing seven titles in seven weight divisions, an unprecedented feat in the fight game.

Proof of Pacquiao’s legendary status is Nike’s continuing campaign to generate media mileage from his heroics in the ring. Pacquiao has been a Nike endorser since Sept. 2006 and is on his second contract with the Beaverton Company that is acknowledged as “the world’s largest designer, marketer and distributor of authentic athletic footwear, apparel and accessories for a wide variety of sports and fitness activities.”

Last year, Pacquiao appeared in a global Nike TV ad with superstars Kobe Bryant, Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova, Ronaldo and Liu Xiang. And last month, he was chosen to be a part of Nike’s “magnificent seven” cast pitching the AW77 hood sweatshirt. With Pacquiao in the elite lineup were Bryant, Sharapova, Rafael Nadal, LeBron James, Algerian hip-hop dancer Sofia Boutella and Brazilian football striker Alexandre Pato.

Pacquiao has also been featured in Nike shoots with Bryant, Sharapova and golfer Tiger Woods.

For a Filipino to be classified in the same category as Woods, Sharapova, Bryant, Federer, James and other high-profile Nike athletes is a tribute to Pacquiao’s ascendancy as a global sports hero.

In recognition of Pacquiao’s stature, Forbes Magazine recently listed the fighter among the world’s most influential athletes and ranked him No. 6 alongside James and golfer Phil Mickelson in gross earnings with $40 million. This year, Pacquiao was guaranteed $12 million for facing Ricky Hatton and $13 million for taking on Cotto. Additionally, he stood to earn at least $10 million more from his slice of the pay-per-view upside. The amount excluded his fees from endorsements, movies, concert appearances and other ancillary sources of income.

If Pacquiao battles Floyd Mayweather Jr. next year, he is expected to earn at least $40 million for what is tipped to be the highest pay-per-view grosser in history.

Pacquiao has been hailed as boxing’s savior in the betting industry. Los Angeles Times writer Lance Pugmire reported a few weeks ago that the economic downturn has reduced Las Vegas revenues from wagers by 10 percent since 2007 with Pacquiao making a major impact as a consistent draw.

“The Pacquiao-Cotto fight attracted lots of visitors,” wrote Pugmire. “And it was profitable for the sports books because they took a lot of proposition bets about when the fight would end. The over/under for the fight was 9.5 rounds; most bettors expected a shorter fight.”

The scuttlebutt was the odds on a 12th round knockout win by Pacquiao were 20-1, even higher than the 15-1 odds for a draw. That meant a $100 wager on Pacquiao scoring a 12th round knockout brought in $2,000 - not a bad payback.

Nike has made it a tradition to issue new Pacquiao T-shirts before every major fight and so far, the factory has produced over six limited edition versions, which are now highly sought-after as collectors’ items.

The latest T-shirt versions are destined to be best sellers - the Team Pacquiao eagle and the MP. They hit Nike stores before Pacquiao’s 12th round demolition of Miguel Cotto in Las Vegas last Nov. 14. Other Nike shirts display a jeepney under a “King of the Ring” tag and the slogan “Pacman Knows” with a caricature of the fighter’s popular Jack Russell terrier named Pacman.

In the Philippines, Nike said 20,000 new Pacquiao shirts were distributed - 9,000 of the eagle and 11,000 of the MP - just before the Cotto fight. Both shirts bore the Nike Pacquiao identity crest, an iconic symbol reflecting Nike’s “unwavering commitment towards supporting one of the greatest boxers of all time.”

Nike Philippines country marketing manager Mae Dicupha said, “We are very proud to support Manny in all his battles and feats - he embodies the good sportsmanship and athleticism that Nike athletes possess, we are committed to being a part of his battle - from his rigid training to the actual fight in the ring.”

The eagle shirt showcases a gold foil outline of the Philippine eagle head in the center front with a screenprint of an outlined eagle wing in the background. The MP shirt features the Nike swoosh on the front with the initials MP and a sun to the lower right, representing the Philippine flag. Both shirts are in different color schemes and retail for P1,095.

Aside from shirts, Nike has also produced three editions of Pacquiao trainer shoes. The first, called the Flywire Air Trainer 1, was issued before the Hatton fight last May and it came in red-and-gold. Then, to immortalize the win over Hatton, Nike released the “Lights Out” Air Trainer 1 edition last September. The shoe featured a glow-in-the-dark motif and cultural references, including a stylized sole showing a red boxing glove with the MP logo and swoosh.

The third Pacquiao shoe was brought out on the day of the Cotto bout. The MP Nike Trainer 1 Low was designed for versatility and retails for P5,995. A pair is in red-white-and-blue with a graphic inclusion of “Li’l Pacman” on the tongue top.

A huge Nike billboard was unveiled on top of the Montalban theatre in Hollywood last September with Pacquiao in a grey and teal blue sweatshirt endorsing the AW77 hood. He was later feted in a show called “Under The Hood” at the Nike theater with trainer Freddie Roach, assistant trainer Buboy Fernandez and conditioning coach Alex Ariza. The four were perched on high stools in the middle of the theater stage and answered questions from the packed audience to highlight the program. Pacquiao also sang a duet with singer Melissa R.

To cement his celebrity status more, Pacquiao was a guest on the TV show “Jimmy Kimmel Live” in Los Angeles - even before he set a new record by becoming the first fighter ever to win seven world titles in seven divisions.