(NEW YORK, NY) — The battle to take on Viagra in the multibillion-dollar anti-impotence market was joined in earnest on Tuesday, when former NFL player and coach Mike Ditka helped launch a campaign on behalf of new rival Levitra.
Given the daunting task of going head-to-head with a drug that has a five-year head start and phenomenal name recognition in Viagra, Bayer AG and GlaxoSmithKline Plc turned to the testosterone drenched world of the National Football League and the former coach with a tough-as-nails reputation.
The companies, which signed a three-year sponsorship deal with the NFL, unveiled their “Tackling Men’s Health” campaign at a news conference at Madison Square Garden. Levitra won U.S. approval from the Food and Drug Administration last month.
Ditka, who often looked as if his head might explode as he chewed out players who did not perform to his standards during his coaching days with the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints, was his typical indelicate self in dealing with what most men would consider a very delicate problem.
“I’m not embarrassed by coming out and saying I have ED (erectile dysfunction). Not to talk about it would have been stupid,” said Ditka, sporting a floral print Hawaiian shirt and his Bears Super Bowl championship ring.
“You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure out you have a problem like this,” the 63-year-old former tight end and Hall of Famer said. “If I have a problem and I don’t seek a solution to the problem, I got to be a fool,”
Yet doctors estimate more than 80 percent of men who suffer some form of ED have yet to seek help for the problem.
Bayer and Glaxo are banking on Ditka’s appeal with the blue-collar, lunch pail crowd among the 120 million fans that watch NFL games each week to take the embarrassment out of talking to doctors about impotence, and hopefully to get them to ask for something other than Viagra.
“If they realize it can happen to ‘Iron Mike,’ it can happen to anybody,” Ditka said, pun intended.
Ditka even took a swipe at the far less macho world of Major League Baseball, the so-called national pastime that has Viagra as one of its sponsors.
“If you’re going to speak to men over the age of 40, there’s no greater vehicle than the National Football League,” Ditka said. “You can call anything you want to the national pastime, but I know what it is, it’s the NFL.”
Ditka, who had a heart attack in 1988 and has had both hips replaced since taking a battering in his NFL career, said he used Viagra, but had fewer side effects and faster response time with Levitra.
Many analysts believe that rather than competing for market share with Viagra, which had $1.74 billion in sales last year, the Levitra campaign could expand the market.
By 2025, an estimated 300 million men worldwide will have some form of erectile dysfunction, Dr. Steven Lamm, an internist at New York University Medical Center, told the Ditka gathering.
A third entry, Cialis, from Eli Lilly and Co. and ICOS Corp., is expected to gain U.S. regulatory approval and join the fray later this year.
Ditka is embarking on a nationwide tour that will run through the Super Bowl in February to talk about men’s health issues and conditions that can contribute to ED.