Jason Giambi's once-sturdy status as a power hitter eagerly sought by companies to endorse their products took a hit on Thursday when Nike announced it was ending its relationship with him.
Giambi has worn Nike shoes and clothes for most of his 11-year major league career. But he has been embroiled in controversy since the San Francisco Chronicle reported last December that he had told the grand jury investigating the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative that he had used steroids.
The American League's Most Valuable Player in 2000, Giambi has struggled mightily at the plate this season, hitting .234 in a part-time role with just four home runs. He did not play on Thursday night in the New York Yankees' 5-2 loss to the Royals in Kansas City.
"I can confirm that we do not have a relationship with him," Rob Aldinger, a spokesman for Nike, said Thursday. "At this point, that's all I can say." Giambi said that Pepsi and Arm & Hammer deodorant had also allowed endorsement deals to lapse in the last year. Giambi still has a contract with Louisville Slugger to endorse its bats, a deal he has had for more than a decade.
Before the 2002 season, Giambi signed a seven-year, US$120 million contract with the Yankees. Last year, Forbes magazine ranked him as the 34th highest-paid professional athlete in the world, with a salary of US$16.6 million, US$3 million of it from endorsements.
But with the loss of the Nike, the Pepsi and the Arm & Hammer deals, his income from endorsements has dropped sharply.
Giambi played down the termination of the endorsement deals.
"They just all expired," he said before Thursday night's game. "No big deal."
When asked if he thought Nike's action was in response to his off-the-field problems, Giambi said: "No. I've got offers on the table. Nobody said anything."
Neither Aldinger nor Arn Tellem, Giambi's agent, would discuss details of Giambi's contract with Nike. In an interview with the Daily News in 2002, after Giambi re-signed with Nike, Tellem called the deal "extraordinary for a baseball player, or any athlete."
"I joke that he's treated like an NBA player with his shoe deal," Tellem said.
In the same article, Giambi said his endorsement deals were worth "upper six or seven figures." He added that every deal he was considering was in that range or close to US$1 million.
"Before, we were begging for four or five figures," Giambi said.
Jonathan Wexler, a sports marketing agent with Playing Field Promotions in Denver, said companies were tightening the morality clauses in endorsement contracts while also becoming much more selective about which players they use to market their products.
"Jason went from one of the most marketable players in baseball to one of the least marketable in about six months," Wexler said. "So it doesn't surprise me that they terminated it."
Giambi had several pairs of size-12 Nike cleats in his locker in Kansas City and said he planned to wear Nike Thursday night. Two weeks ago, he borrowed a pair of Hideki Matsui's Mizunos and wore them against the New York Mets. Giambi said that Reebok had sent him cleats, but he had not tested them yet.
Giambi's two-year deal with Pepsi ended last year, said Nicole Bradley, a spokeswoman for the company.
"It was just a case of, we change our roster of sports endorsers every so often," Bradley said. "We decided to go in a different direction."