Although Marcus Lattimore’s football career at the University of South Carolina is long over, the S.C. Education Lottery Commission is heading into marketing overtime with the former Gamecock star running back.
The commission paid nearly $63,000 – $20,000 for Lattimore’s endorsement fee through a New York-based sports marketing firm, which has a South Carolina office; and $42,955 to a Columbia media production company – to produce a “Play Responsibly” commercial that has been airing statewide since June, according to records recently obtained by The Nerve under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.
From June through September, the public service announcement has aired a total of approximately 4,330 times in the Midlands, Upstate and Lowcountry, Holli Armstrong, commission spokeswoman, said this week in a written response to The Nerve.
“This is an estimate,” Armstrong said. “We do not have an exact count from all outlets.”
Armstrong said under a one-year agreement with Lattimore, the commercials will continue airing through this June, though she didn’t know how many times. The video, which also features Paula Harper Bethea, the commission’s executive director, can be seen on the commission’s website.
Lattimore, who decided to enter the NFL draft after a season-ending knee injury in 2012 and was a fourth-round draft pick last year by the San Francisco 49ers, “approached the Lottery” about doing a public service announcement after his last Gamecock season but before he joined the NFL, Armstrong said.
“While playing at USC the NCAA rules prohibit using players like Lattimore,” Armstrong said. “If we tried to sign Marcus Lattimore to tape a play responsibly message now that he is a professional football player, we could not afford him.”
“We took advantage of a narrow window of opportunity after he was no longer a USC football player subject to NCAA rules and before he went pro,” Armstrong continued, “and produced the commercial that shows our continued commitment to our ‘Play Responsibly’ message.”
Lattimore is “obviously beloved and respected by many in South Carolina, not just football fans, and we thought he would be perfect to advocate the importance of responsible lottery play,” Armstrong said.
The commercial, set in USC’s Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, shows Lattimore holding a football while chatting with Bethea, who points out that during Lattimore’s college career, the running back “gained more than 2,000 yards, scored 38 touchdowns and rarely turned the ball over.”
“OK, so how’d you do it, Marcus?” Bethea asks.
“I protected what was most important,” Lattimore responds. “You’d probably say I play responsibly.”
“I would – the same way I urge our players to play our games,” Bethea replies. “Remember, winning means keeping your priorities straight. So have fun, stay inbounds and always play responsibly.”
Armstrong told The Nerve she didn’t know why Lattimore contacted the commission about doing the public service announcement, referring those questions to The Legacy Agency Inc., which represents Lattimore. The Nerve this week left phone and written messages at the firm’s Daniel Island office seeking comment on the commercial but received no response by publication of this story.
Besides Daniel Island, the sports marketing agency has offices in Texas, California, London and Australia in addition to its New York headquarters, according o the firm’s website.
Its well-known NFL clients include Reggie Bush and Ndamukong Suh of the Detroit Lions, Mark Ingram of the New Orleans Saints, DeMarco Murray of the Dallas Cowboys and Greg Olsen of the Carolina Panthers, according to the website.
The commercial featuring Lattimore was produced by Mad Monkey Inc. of Columbia, according to commission records provided to The Nerve.
The lottery agency produced one “Play Responsibly” public service announcement last fiscal year at a total cost of approximately $49,000 – about $14,000 less than the cost of the Lattimore commercial, according to figures provided by Armstrong. Next year’s proposed marketing budget for that program isn’t expected to be approved by the commission’s governing board until May, she said.
There are no current plans to use Lattimore or other former S.C. collegiate athletes for additional public service announcements, Armstrong said.
Armstrong said the public service announcements are separate from the agency’s general marketing budget for lottery games. Advertising and promotion expenses for the fiscal year that ended June 30 were $7.4 million, according to the commission’s annual financial report.
Total lottery revenues last fiscal year were more than $1.2 billion; after the subtraction of $775.5 million in paid prizes and $121.9 million in vendor commissions, operating expenses and other related costs, $305.2 million was transferred to the state Education Lottery Account, according to the financial report. Lottery proceeds are considered “other” funds in the state budget.
Asked whether the money spent for the Lattimore commercial could have better spent directly on educational services or scholarships, Armstrong in her written response said: “To date, the Lottery has transferred $3.2 billion to education. But we also have a responsibility that we take very seriously to promote responsible play in South Carolina. If Mr. Lattimore can help one person play responsibly, it is worth it to us. He’s a class act.”
When asked if the commission had any statistical or anecdotal evidence that the Lattimore commercial has reduced the number of problem gamblers in South Carolina, Armstrong replied, “There’s no way we can make that correlation.”
Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_rick. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.