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Wednesday, February 20
Updated: February 21, 10:07 AM ET
 
Palmeiro will endorse, but will he use?

By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com

What do Rafael Palmeiro and Bob Dole have in common?

Viagra.

Palmeiro, the 37-year-old Texas Rangers first baseman/designated hitter, is close to finalizing an endorsement deal that will make him the first active athlete among the four major sports to serve as a spokesman for the drug that helps correct erectile dysfunction in men.

Rafael Palmeiro
Rafael Palmeiro could become the new face of Viagra.
Palmiero's agent, Fernando Cuza, told Sports Business Journal that his client "does not suffer from this problem." But when contacted by ESPN.com, Cuza declined to elaborate.

Palmeiro reportedly is scheduled to appear in advertising for the drug, which will begin a three-year sponsorship deal with Major League Baseball this season. However, neither deal has been finalized yet, said Geoff Cook, spokesman for Pfizer, which manufactures and distributes the drug.

Some question the relevance of Palmeiro, assuming he doesn't need the product.

"The medical profession frowns upon the drug being used as an enhancement for people with otherwise normal functions in their sex life," said Frank Vuono, founder of 16W Marketing, a sports marketing firm. "With the association, the implication would seem to be that (Palmeiro) would take the drug even if he doesn't have a problem. Pfizer, as a regulated company, obviously has to be careful about the communication, and I'm sure they will be."

While athletes don't have to use the products they endorse -- remember Joe Namath and Beautymist pantyhose, and Steve Garvey and the Fat Trapper -- the appeal of the product likely would be enhanced if the endorser could vouch for its benefits through firsthand experience.

"The best endorser might be some athlete or former athlete who is still relatively young who would be secure enough to say, 'I'm 45, but I use the product legitimately,' " Vuono said.

Palmeiro's endorsement could make for easy fodder on late-night talk shows, as it did when Dole began pitching the product.

"(Palmeiro) better give me some free samples," ESPN Radio's Rob Dibble said on The Dan Patrick Show on Wednesday afternoon.

Pfizer and Viagra have been the main sponsor of NASCAR driver Mark Martin's Winston Cup race car since last year. While the campaign is meant to increase the visibility of the drug, Martin talks about the company's initiative to get men to get frequent checkups, instead of his personal use of the drug. So far, Pfizer has given 50,000 free exams to men at a mobile screening unit that travels to each Winston Cup race, Cook said.

The drug has been used by 10 million men in the United States since its inception in April 1998, Pfizer says. The company says the dysfunction, in some degree, affects about half of U.S. men from ages 40 to 70.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at darren.rovell@espn.com.






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