Wayne Gretzky is the guy you would want to live next door to you. That clean-living, clean-cut image is real.
That a hockey player can be a role model is not unusual, but, let's face it, hockey is still worlds behind baseball, football and basketball in popularity.
Gretzky has been the perfect goodwill ambassador for the game for the past 16 seasons. And advertisers have taken notice, even if the NHL hasn't always used Gretzky's appeal to help sell the game.
Sharp Electronics, Coca-Cola, Air Canada, Domino's Pizza, Easton Sports, L.A. Gear, Time Warner and Upper Deck are just some of the companies that have hired Gretzky to face-off for them in the business world.
His annual endorsement earnings, estimated at $12 million, are topped in the athletic advertising field by only Michael Jordan ($40 million) and Shaquille O'Neal, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus ($20 million each).
Mario Lemieux's celebrity, Mark Messier's Stanley Cups and Eric Lindros' starry future are still not on the same rink with Gretzky when it comes to positive publicity for the NHL. No one in the NHL can come close.
That same Midas touch has made Gretzky the highest-paid player in the NHL. He in the second year of a three-year, $34.8-million contract. Agent Michael Barnett structured the contract so that only $7.5 million of that total is in salary. The other $27.3 million is in signing bonuses and was not lost in the recent lockout.