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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 November, 2003, 11:37 GMT
Wilkinson set for Beckham treatment
By Phil Harlow

Jonny Wilkinson and David Beckham, England's two most marketable sporting heroes, have struck up a firm friendship
Wilkinson and Beckham are a marketing man's dream
When England defeated Australia in Saturday's World Cup final, you could be forgiven for thinking that one man had felled the defending champions on his own.

After scoring the match-winning drop goal in the dying seconds to win the Webb Ellis Trophy, Jonny Wilkinson was lauded by every newspaper in the land.

Even tabloid king David Beckham - a good friend of Wilkinson's since the pair filmed a series of adverts together - has had to play second fiddle to England's fly-half.

At just 24, Wilkinson is England's all-time record points scorer and has just been voted international player of the year for the second year running.

But his achievements on the field are not the only reason Wilkinson is rugby's hottest property.

Young, good-looking, a high achiever, an internationally-known sportsman: a run-down of Wilkinson's attributes could easily be mistaken for Beckham's.

And while the likelihood of Wilkinson sauntering along to an Elton John party in a sarong is some way off, an increase in his commercial viability is almost inevitable.

Existing sponsorship deals with the likes of Adidas, Lucozade, Tetley's and Hackett show Wilkinson is no slouch when it comes to exploiting his clean-cut image.

And as his profile continues to soar, experts predict his earning potential could go through the roof.

It is, though, unlikely to scale the heights of Beckham or Tiger Woods, simply because, on a global level, rugby is not as big a sport as football or golf.

Public relations guru Max Clifford has no doubts Wilkinson can become rugby's biggest star.

"He's the golden boy," said Clifford.

"He's good-looking, he's got a style and a look about him, and he scores points that win games.

"In the next three years, he could be turning over 5m a year. He has the potential to become the first-ever rugby superstar for the masses - the sky really is the limit."

England's Tony Underwood was battered by Jonah Lomu at the 1995 World Cup
Lomu (right) was rugby's first global superstar
SCG, Wilkinson's agents, are well aware of the opportunities that await, after Wilkinson's crucial part in England's World Cup final win.

"Jonny is the most marketable rugby player in the country," said SCG's Dan Collins. "Now the sponsorship opportunities will be huge."

Wilkinson appeals to a wide cross section of society: the establishment (he was made an MBE last year), rugby fans (of course), teenage girls, housewives, gay men to name a few.

"I know nothing about rugby, but even I know who he is and what he looks like now," said Gay Times journalist Andrew Copestake.

"It's probably only over the last year that he's really started to cross over into our magazine.

"We recently ran a rugby issue and he featured heavily, and he's doing very well in our readers' sexiest man end-of-year poll."

And it is this universal appeal that makes him a marketing man's dream.

David Campese, Gareth Edwards, Francois Pienaar, Serge Blanco - rugby legends to a man, but how much do those names mean outside the rugby fraternity?

Former France captain Serge Blanco, one of rugby's all-time greats
Blanco is a rugby legend, but how well known is he outside the sport?
Within rugby, perhaps only New Zealander Jonah Lomu has come close to Wilkinson's level of fame after his spectacular performances in the 1995 World Cup.

But Lomu, a true legend of the sport, has fallen out of the reckoning at international level as he battles with a serious kidney condition.

Wilkinson can take his pick of endorsements and is unlikely to be opening many supermarkets, but Lomu's demise as a force at the highest level provides a stark reminder of the ephemeral nature of a sportsman's life.

While the going is good, no-one could begrudge Wilkinson from cashing in on the profile his talent, dedication and countless hours of practice have earned him.



Links to more Rugby World Cup stories


 

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Jonny Wilkinson MBE
31 Dec 02  |  New Year Honours


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