Penguins Sidney Crosby is a marketer's dream



Hello Magazine Canada lists Sidney Crosby among its 50 Most Beautiful Canadians, alongside Shania Twain, Kiefer Sutherland and Avril Lavigne.

And just yesterday, 21-year-old Sid the Kid was named a finalist for the Mark Messier Leadership Award, which "recognizes an individual as a superior leader in hockey and as a contributing member of society."

With a combination of sex appeal and wholesomeness, plus the drive that helped his team to two straight Stanley Cup finals, Sidney Crosby has managed to transcend a relatively small market "and even the game. He's his own brand," said Brian Jennings, director of marketing for the NHL, before Game 3 at Mellon Arena last night.

Mr. Jennings added that Mr. Crosby has the highest Q rating (a measurement of popularity and face and name recognition) of any active NHL player, "and I think it's grown exponentially from his rookie year."

His on-ice exploits aside, the Penguins' captain has inspired fans to make his No. 87 jersey a top seller as well as to create online forums dedicated to whether he has a girlfriend and reams of fan fiction. He's also got that all-Canadian boy thing going, sparking one columnist in his hometown of Halifax to imagine in print what a great son-in-law he'd be.

"I think his behavior, if you're a parent, he's the son-in-law you dream of; if you're an athlete, you want him on your team because you see in his eyes an intense desire to win," Mr. Jennings said. "The companies that want to align themselves with him -- Gatorade, Reebok -- are all performance brands. It's all of those things colliding at one point that help capture the minds and imaginations of hockey fans, both avid and casual fans alike."

Right out of the gate, when Mr. Crosby was an 18-year-old No. 1 draft pick in 2005, his "Q" began its ascent.

Besides the through-the-roof expectations on the ice, he was quickly seen in a shirtless pose for GQ in a story titled "The Crosby Show."

Around the same time, the Web site "The Sidney Crosby Show" -- among the 133,000 listings that come up when you Google "Sidney Crosby fan site" -- was born. The site was founded by Jes Golbez in 2005. He handed the duties to Jodie L., 31, of Tyrone, Blair County, before this season. She maintains the site with the dedication of a superfan, but she's not among the swooning swarms.

Why?

"It's extremely rare to find a regular kid his age that has all of those 'aw-shucks' qualities, let alone one that lives with the media creating this almost god-like image around him," she said. "He clearly doesn't listen to the hype, and that's exactly the reason why I have such a high opinion of him. How many other athletes who are the best in their sports are like that?"

Lauren Hopkins, 23, a graduate student and Cranberry native, is an occasional contributor to online communities dedicated to the Penguins and Sid the Kid.

"I think people are drawn to Sidney Crosby because ... he's talented, motivated, handsome, polite, etc. Like Mario Lemieux, he shows a commitment to our city and a dedication to helping children. ... His work ethic appeals to a blue-collar city like Pittsburgh. Showman-type guys like Alexander Ovechkin or Sean Avery wouldn't last five seconds with Pittsburgh fans."

In recognizing Mr. Crosby yesterday as a finalist for the Messier Leadership Award, the announcement noted that he "hosts a suite for underprivileged children at every Penguins home game in conjunction with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He funds and serves as an on-ice instructor for the Penguins' Learn to Play Program that introduces the game to youngsters and, with support from Reebok, outfits them from head to toe."

"He's a special kid," said Mr. Lemieux, Mr. Crosby's boss and mentor. The youngster lives with the Penguins' owner during the season, and Mr. Lemieux said one reason his children attended the games in Detroit was "because, of course, we are supportive of Sid."

Ms. Hopkins believes what Mr. Crosby said of himself in a recent interview: "He doesn't really have a dark side."

That seems to be the impression of Sid the Kid -- unless you're a fan of the other team.

Evgeni Malkin is the league's leading scorer, but it's Mr. Crosby's name they chant in Detroit, and it was Crosby versus Ovechkin, the Capitals' high-scoring rock star, that got fans riled during the second round of the NHL playoffs.

Mr. Jennings noted that being the most hated player in a hostile rink "in some ways is the highest compliment. It's like, I know you're so good and so magical, I just hope you can't do it against my team."


Sharon Eberson can be reached at seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960. First Published June 3, 2009 4:00 AM


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