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Keeping His Celebrity In Perspective

Wall Street Journal, September 11, 2010

By Scott Cacciola

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Nick Sanchez could use a rake to sift through the heaps of flotsam that fill his email inbox on a daily basis. There are offers for his little brother to appear on cartoons, to pose for billboards, to make promotional appearances at bars, cocktail parties and car washes.

"Some of the stuff," said Mark Sanchez, the second-year quarterback of the Jets, "is just outlandish."

But as he prepares for Monday night's season opener against the Baltimore Ravens at New Meadowlands Stadium, Mr. Sanchez has taken a calculated approach to his own celebrity: He has learned to say no to sponsors, to distractions, to the money grab that tempts so many other young, marketable athletes. Nick Sanchez, who works as Mark's agent, described their strategy as "creating an environment that maximizes his chances for success."

Mark Sanchez will make between $400,000-$600,000 in endorsements this year, according to an estimate by IEG, a sponsorship consulting and research firm. By comparison, Giants quarterback Eli Manning will earn an estimated $7 million from endorsements. And Mr. Manning's older brother Peyton, the All-Pro quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, will bank about $15 million the most of any NFL player.

Each of the Manning brothers has won a Super Bowl, an achievement that has bolstered their corporate appeal but is absent from Mr. Sanchez's résumé. There is no doubt, however, that he could be making more much more even at this early stage of his career. "On paper, he's got pretty much everything you're looking for," said Jim Andrews, IEG's senior vice president.

Mr. Sanchez has good looks, charisma and bi-coastal appeal, having starred at the University of Southern California. But he also has room for improvement in his chosen trade. The Jets' run to the AFC Championship game last January masked Mr. Sanchez's regular-season struggles. He completed just 53.8 percent of his passes for 2,444 yards, and he threw 20 interceptions. The team expects to see growth from Mr. Sanchez this season, and he appears to have committed himself.

"There are two schools of thought," he said. "You can get the money while you're hot and capitalize, or you can bet on yourself being good for a long time and ease your way into all the other stuff. Inside, I know it's going to happen. Inside, I know I'm going to be good for a long time. That's the way I feel."

As a rookie, Mr. Sanchez sought long-term, low-profile endorsement deals with established companies: Toyota, Pepsi, Verizon and Nike. A Nike spokesman declined to disclose the terms of Mr. Sanchez's contract but said the quarterback is part of Nike's "core group of emerging NFL stars."

Nick Sanchez also secured "right of refusal" with each company, which means his brother has the opportunity to vet any advertisements or proposed appearances and hit the brakes. Mark Sanchez wanted ownership of his image, or at least as much as he could retain considering the circumstances.

"I don't think we'd have to be as careful about overexposing Mark in Cleveland," said Nick Sanchez, an attorney. "But he's in a city now where there's no way we can stop him from being written about or covered. So knowing he's going to be in the papers anyway, it's easier for us to say no to some things."

Mark Sanchez picks his spots, and he has a self-described "bucket list." It includes such items as making an appearance on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," which he did in April. There was a visit to the White House in May for a state dinner that honored Mexican president Felipe Calderon and his wife, Margarita Zavala. (Mr. Sanchez's guest was D'Brickashaw Ferguson, the Jets' left tackle.)

And there was his infamous photo shoot for the June 2009 issue of GQ, which featured an eight-page spread of Mr. Sanchez and a young model named Hilary Rhoda in various stages of amorous undress.

"I mean, are you kidding me?" Mr. Sanchez said. "They were like, 'Here's the model you're going to be working with.' That was a no-brainer. You're crazy if you don't do that one. Wear that? OK. With her? Yeah, I'll wear that."

But none of these required huge time commitments, and they all took place in the offseason. Mr. Sanchez said he wants to minimize clutter from August through January. He also seems wary of isolating himself from his teammates.

So when Sports Illustrated called this summer to express an interest in doing a photo shoot, Mr. Sanchez politely declined. The magazine later used an action shot of Mr. Sanchez and Nick Mangold, the team's All-Pro center, on one of the regional covers for its NFL preview. These days, Mr. Sanchez only poses with teammates or, on special occasions, scantily clad models. He acknowledged being around other athletes who have not been as judicious with their time, and he said he saw how it affected their careers.

"I wish I could say specific people that I didn't want to pattern myself after, but I think you can probably figure it out," Mr. Sanchez said. Pressed on that issue, he said: "Yeah, other guys who played ahead of me at S.C. That pretty much narrows it down."

Mr. Sanchez might not want to name names, but at least two former college teammates both Heisman Trophy winners have had their issues as professionals. Matt Leinart, a quarterback, was released by the Arizona Cardinals this month. (Now considered a reclamation project, he signed a one-year deal with the Houston Texans.)

And Reggie Bush, a running back and the second overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, has had a spotty career with the New Orleans Saints. Mr. Bush now finds himself dogged by allegations that he accepted improper benefits while he was at U.S.C.

"Mark was a star in that same system," said Marc Ganis, president of the Chicago-based sports consulting firm SportsCorp Ltd. "So with that in mind, he's done a remarkable job of separating what he needs to do to become a great professional athlete and what he could have become as a celebrity athlete."

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said his emphasis with Mr. Sanchez continues to be time management.

That is especially important for an NFL quarterback, who owns one of the more mentally taxing jobs in professional sports. Mr. Schottenheimer said Mr. Sanchez often is among the last players to leave the facility at night.

Meantime, Mr. Sanchez occupies the same small locker he had as a rookie. Danny Woodhead, a reserve running back, has the adjacent locker, and he always seems amused by the media horde that surrounds Mr. Sanchez on the days he speaks with reporters.

Mr. Woodhead shrugged when he was asked why he and Mr. Sanchez had yet to ask for bigger, better lockers. Why not go for some high-end real estate?

"We could move," he said, "but I guess we're just comfortable in our spot."