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Vick, Nike Sign New Deal

NEW YORK — Michael Vick is back with Nike two years after the company severed ties over the quarterback’s involvement in a dogfighting ring.

“Mike has a long-standing, great relationship with Nike, and he looks forward to continuing that relationship,” his agent, Joel Segal, said Wednesday.

Segal would not reveal terms of the agreement. Nike declined a request for comment.

The deal was announced during a panel discussion at the Sports Sponsorship Symposium by Michael Principe, the managing director of BEST, the agency that represents Vick.

The endorsement is the latest step forward for Vick as he seeks to rehabilitate his career and his image after serving 18 months in federal prison. On Sunday, Vick played his first regular-season game since December 2006.

“It is quite evident that athletes that run afoul of the law are by no means relegated to obscurity when it comes to pitching products,” said David Carter, a professor of sports marketing at the University of Southern California.

Vick signed with the Philadelphia Eagles on Aug. 13. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell gave him his full reinstatement Sept. 3, saying he could return to the field in Week 3.

Vick participated in 11 plays, accounting for 30 total yards, in the Eagles’ 34-14 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, as Philadelphia tries to use him in a variety of ways as a backup.

Nike, which signed Vick as a rookie in 2001, terminated his contract in August 2007 after the Atlanta Falcons star filed a plea agreement admitting his involvement in the dogfighting ring. At the time, Nike called cruelty to animals “inhumane, abhorrent and unacceptable” and halted release of his fifth signature shoe, the Air Zoom Vick V.

Back when Vick first signed with the Eagles, Carter had said he was “too toxic for most companies to even consider taking a chance on him.” What’s changed? As Carter noted Wednesday, there has been little backlash to the quarterback’s return to the NFL.

Protests have been limited, and the Eagles’ sponsors have stood by them. That experience could make companies less wary about adding Vick as an endorser, though the biggest determinant might be no different from any other athlete: how well he performs on the field.

Retailer Dick’s Sporting Goods said earlier this month that it wasn’t carrying Vick’s Eagles jersey in any of its 300 stores as a business decision.

But Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at University of Oregon, isn’t surprised that Nike re-established its relationship with Vick.

“Nike has a history of supporting athletes. I think they are supporting an athlete who still garners attention,” Swangard saud. “This is about Michael Vick as the athlete not Michael Vick the prisoner. … When he is inside the lines of the field he is an exciting football player and that’s what a brand like Nike can tap into.”

Vick signed a $1.6 million deal with the Eagles, with a team option for the second year at $5.2 million. He was once a corporate star — holding multimillion dollar deals to market everything from sneakers to sports drinks. But those millions are long gone.

In July, Vick filed for bankruptcy protection while serving his sentence, saying he owed between $10 million and $50 million to creditors.

To Carter, Nike likely made a calculated business decision that the benefit of sales tied to Vick outweighed any potential public outrage.

Vick must still have some selling power if the company is getting behind him, he said. “Nobody understands their consumer and has their finger on the pulse of their consumer like Nike does.”

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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