By Bill Wilson
Business reporter, BBC News, Soccerex convention, Johannesburg
David Beckham has done extensive promotional work for Motorola
As sporting sponsorship deals face the axe in the face of the financial downturn, Motorola is counting the success of its current deal with football legend David Beckham.
Billboards of Beckham clutching the firm's Razr phone have become a familiar sight, as Motorola has turned the biggest brand in football into the face of its global marketing campaign.
And the US phone giant says the use of the former Manchester United, Real Madrid and England star has helped them crack markets in East Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Beckham signed for Motorola in May 2006, just before that year's World Cup in Germany.
And the firm was in no doubt about what it was signing.
"David Beckham is possibly the most recognisable face in the world, and definitely the most iconic sportsman of his generation," said Motorola marketing manager Jeremy Dale at the Soccerex football business seminar in Johannesburg.
"He is also adored in markets where our brand was not so strong.
"Before we signed him, we were lagging behind in China and in some other countries."
But it has not all been plain sailing. Not long after the deal was signed, England crashed out of the World Cup. Beckham was dropped by England manager Steve McClaren and by Real Madrid boss Fabio Capello.
"When you sign a sporting property, then you have to expect the unexpected," said Mr Dale.
"But David has a broad appeal that is not restricted to the field of play, and attracts attention where he goes. He transcends sport."
David Beckham has helped Motorola crack new markets
As a result, Motorola has been able to use Beckham successfully in personal appearances in Japan and China.
In Japan, the Beckham effect persuaded mobile network DoCoMo to take the Razr phone.
"We went from no market share to the top selling handset in a week," says Mr Dale.
And in China, Beckham went out of his way while travelling from the US to Australia, in order to put in an appearance for Motorola in Beijing in December 2007 at the launch of the Razr 2.
His appearance earned Motorola an estimated $10m in media value through TV and other coverage, and the story of his visit attracted a record breaking 500 million hits on website sina.com.
"Sales of the phone rocketed from there on," says Mr Dale.
"If you buy a sporting star endorsement, you have to be able to show a return.
"And it has been very good business working with David Beckham. Signing him was probably the best bit of business we did in 2006."
And the good news continues for Motorola, as Beckham is set to spend the winter months on loan at chic Italian club AC Milan.
"Going to Milan will bring him back onto the European stage for us," says Mr Dale.
"As long as it makes sense for us, we want to keep him with us.
"Over the years, he has been very easy to work with and takes a real interest in what our phone designers are doing."
Terry Byrne, Beckham's personal manager for the past six years, says that there is a lot of misconception about Beckham's sponsorship commitments.
There has been some criticism in the past that the player has allowed off-field commitments to distract from football.
Adidas is another of David Beckham's sponsors
"We don't allow any commercial activity in the 48 hours before a game," says Mr Byrne.
In 2003, Beckham's team decided to reduce the number of his deals from 14 to the present five.
"He cut back in order to work solely with blue-chip companies.
"We closely analyse all commercial offers that come in and are extremely selective about what he will do."
As well as Motorola, Beckham is also a face for Pepsi, Adidas, Giorgio Armani and Sharpie pens.
According to Forbes magazine in the US, he earned $50m over the course of the year, with a base salary of $55m at LA Galaxy being boosted by sponsorship revenues.
However, while the marketers will continue to beat a path to the doors of the likes of Beckham and golfer Tiger Woods, the corporate cash may be drying up for lesser sporting names.
"The economic climate is affecting some sponsorship and partnership deals," says Mr Dale.
"Marketing budgets all around the world are being slashed. Businesses are dramatically reducing discretionary spending.
"Over the next six months, the amount of sponsorship deals being closed could fall by 65% compared to the same period a year ago. "