Jimmie Johnson's representatives at CAA Sports are calling his upcoming appearance on the HBO Sports series 24/7 the centrepiece in their efforts to provide the NASCAR driver with increased exposure.
CAA Sports signed Johnson, 34, in January 2008 and his appearance on 24/7, which will begin airing in late January and lead up to the Daytona 500 in February, marks the agency's first strike in an effort to spice up Johnson's vanilla image.
It is CAA's hope - and HBO's, too - that the behind-the-scenes series will reshape the perceptions many have developed in Johnson's nine-season NASCAR career. His backers assure that viewers will discover a more compelling figure than the one who wins with cold-blooded precision, but fails to generate much in the way of passion among the fans.
“With Jimmie, the criticism is a lot like what Roger Federer gets,” said CAA's Michael Levine. “All he does is win.”
But while Federer's brand has evolved into fashion and a global reach, Johnson's remains relatively limited to performance in the NASCAR world, even though he's on the verge of winning an unprecedented fourth straight Sprint Cup championship.
Despite that on-track dominance, Johnson's profile really hasn't transcended the sport. It hasn't even changed that much among NASCAR fans, according to the Davie-Brown Index, which measures a celebrity's attributes. The latest index doesn't have Johnson in the top five among NASCAR drivers in appeal. It remains difficult to attach a brand attribute to Johnson that goes beyond what he's done on the track, say sports marketers.
“Performance doesn't equal personality,” said David Grant, a founding principal of Velocity Sports & Entertainment. “Jimmie's not a redneck, he's not a freak, he's not controversial, he's not a jerk. In fact, he's a really nice guy. He's always proper, he always says the right thing, but that's not what people want to talk about.”
When Johnson selected CAA 22 months ago, he charged the agency with developing new and different opportunities, the kinds of things other drivers aren't doing. It's taken awhile, but the appearance on 24/7 was the kind of thing he had in mind. CAA also is working on a Johnson-branded video game that he is developing with an unnamed gaming company, a deal the agency arranged.
“I do think there is some growth that is yet to come, because there's just beginning to be the type of appreciation from the general sports fan for what he's accomplished,” Levine said. “It's taken a little longer than I would have expected or liked. He's separated himself from the other drivers on the track. and he wants to do the same thing off the track.”
Johnson's approach to endorsements has never been to take quantity over quality. Lowe's has been a longtime sponsor of his #48 car at Hendrick Motorsports and the two are expected to formalise an extension soon, a deal that costs the building supply retailer more than $20 million annually.