Football Stars In High Demand

By Douglas Hanks, Miami Herald
[email protected]
Posted on Saturday, February 03, 2007

Ickey Woods has a corporate golf outing. Don't ask him where.

"I'm not sure," the former Cincinnati Bengals fullback said while nursing a drink at a VIP tent party Thursday night. "My girl tells me where to go."

Little wonder Woods finds scheduling a bit daunting this weekend. The Super Bowl brings a flood of appearance requests for NFL notables past and present, with event planners trying to convey A-list status through the presence of gridiron stars.

A dozen staffers for the NFL Players Association meet each morning in a Miami hotel to coordinate schedules of some 600 athletes and match them up with more than 400 paid appearances.

That doesn't count the hundreds of former NFL players in town for football's biggest event, most of them eager for the hefty fees an appearance usually brings.

"What a crazy weekend," said David Canter, president of DEC Management, a Miramar company that represents professional athletes. "I thought it was going to be good. It's way better than I expected."

He was talking on a cellphone in his car, on his way to pick up a gift bag from a party from one of his players. Expected to be inside: two first-class airline tickets to anywhere in the United States, a new Tivo digital recorder, three days at a luxury spa and his-and-her watches.

Though the top tier of football celebrities can bring in $100,000 for an appearance, corporate planners said most players collect between $2,000 and $20,000 for a few hours of their time. For Woods, a standard appearance costs $10,000. But the Ickey Shuffle, the signature end-zone dance he made famous in the late '80s, costs another $1,500.

This year, event planners say South Florida has spawned the largest roster of Super Bowl parties and a record number of visiting athletes. And while the thick social schedule means more competition for top names like New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees -- cited as a top request this year by the NFL Players Association -- it can hurt revenue for back-benchers and past players.

"Last year I had a lot more," said Karl Mecklenburg, a Denver Bronco defender who played in three Super Bowls during the 1980s. "I think because it was in Detroit, it wasn't as attractive for a lot of the active guys."

Sharyn Outtrim, an Atlanta event planner with three large Super Bowl parties this weekend in Hollywood, said members of the Chicago Bears 1985 team (forever immortalized in the Super Bowl Shuffle video) have been calling her all week looking for paid appearances.

Instead, they'll be coming to her Sunday tailgate parties at the Park Sports Club as unpaid guests. "I'm a pretty good negotiator," said Outtrim, vice president of hospitality for RazorGator Experiences.

Ottis Anderson was the headliner for Thursday's Rocking the Gridiron party and concert, which also drew Woods, Mecklenburg and a scattering of other players by the early evening. Jim Hall, the Minnesota graphics executive who financed the party, said he budgeted about $100,000 for appearance fees -- roughly 25 percent of the event's budget.

Anderson, a former Miami Hurricanes star who went on to win the Super Bowl MVP award in 1991 as a New York Giant, said his appearance fees start at $12,000. For every paid appearance during Super Bowl weekend, he said he tries to schedule a charity event, too.

Appearances get so complicated for the NFL Players Association that the union's for-profit arm, Players Inc., deploys a squad of 12 staffers to ensure players meet their league commitments.

"Once a player has agreed to be a part of a function, it's our responsibility to make sure he actually gets there," said Dexter Santos, vice president of player marketing for Players Inc.

Assembled in a narrow conference room in the Hyatt Regency Miami, the squad spends the day updating a spreadsheet of players' schedules with sponsors' social events. Among the hazards: players sleeping late, drivers stuck in South Florida gridlock and chief executives left waiting for the guest of honor to arrive.

"Being a few minutes late here and there, they can accept," Santos said. "But being an hour late..."

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