Aaron Rodgers is the most marketable player in the NFL, according to an exclusive survey of sports business execs, analysts and media members conducted by THE DAILY. Rodgers finished first by a narrow margin over Tom Brady, with Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Tim Tebow rounding out the top five. Overall, it is still quarterbacks that attract the attention of Madison Avenue. The list was dominated by signal-callers, who garnered each of the top five positions and eight of the top 11. QBs also accounted for 12 of the 26 names mentioned on ballots. Engage Marketing Founder Kevin Adler said in terms of marketing, the past season has been "without a doubt, the year of the quarterback." Rodgers and Brady were neck-and-neck, with Brady actually garnering more votes for first place (15 to Rodgers' 12). But Rodgers had a slight edge due to the fact that his name appeared on 41 of 50 ballots, while Brady appeared on 36 ballots. Click here for the entire list.
METHODOLOGY: The survey was distributed to corporate brand managers, marketing and branding executives, agencies, sports business professors and football media, who were asked to list, in order, the top five most marketable players in the NFL. Points were awarded on a five-point scale, with a player awarded five points for a first-place vote, four points for second place, etc.
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers
Patriots QB Tom Brady
Colts QB Peyton Manning
Saints QB Drew Brees
Broncos QB Tim Tebow
Steelers S Troy Polamalu
Giants QB Eli Manning
Panthers QB Cam Newton
Packers LB Clay Matthews
Ravens LB Ray Lewis
Cowboys QB Tony Romo
RODGER THAT: Rodgers, who is repped by David Dunn at Athletes First, is a relative newcomer to NFL stardom compared to the likes of Brady, Brees and the Manning brothers, but his star is clearly still on the rise. After years of playing behind Brett Favre and even receiving some popular backlash from fans who questioned the Packers' decision to part ways with No. 4, Rodgers has come into his own with a Super Bowl win and a 15-1 regular season this year. He has national deals with Nike and State Farm, plus regional deals in the Great Lakes area with Ford dealers, Prevea Health and Associated Bank. He also has appeared on a regional version of General Mills' Wheaties boxes. State Farm's “Discount Double Check” campaign is by far the most high-profile marketing effort he appears in, and the series of TV ads has been roundly praised by industry experts. Baker Street Advertising Exec VP & Exec Creative Dir Bob Dorfman described it as "a winner for State Farm," and a campaign that shows Rodgers "has Peyton-esque potential on camera." GMR Marketing Exec VP/Sports Marketing Mike Boykin said the State Farm ads "helped bring out his personality and sense of humor." Sutton & Associates Principal Bill Sutton said the effort represents a "nice translation of his gesture into a marketing campaign." One of the more quantifiable indicators of his growing stardom is the fact that his jersey claimed the top spot for sales on NFLShop.com from April 1-Dec. 31. But is there any better sign that a player is a household name than when Miss America mentions it in her acceptance speech, as did Miss Wisconsin Laura Kaeppeler? NYU Professor Robert Boland feels Rodgers "has only scratched the surface of his marketability." The L.A. Times' Sam Farmer noted he is "a phenomenal athlete," but his "average size makes him an everyman when compared to the 6-foot-5 Tom Brady and Peyton Manning."
UGGs is one of only two brands Brady represents nationally, the other being Under Armour
THE STORY OF A MAN NAMED BRADY: Brady finished just behind Rodgers in the survey, and the consensus seemed to be that he could be the clear Number One if he sought more endorsement opportunities. Brady, whose agent is Don Yee of Yee & Dubin, endorses only two national brands at present in UGGs and Under Armour. Fox' Jay Glazer noted, "If Tom elected to do (more) off-field opportunities he'd be at the top of this list." But other experts see Brady's scarcity as an asset. rEvolution Exec VP/Consulting & Research Darren Marshall argued, "It’s because he’s careful about the number of national campaigns he does that he is more marketable. Fans can perceive Peyton Manning as something of a professional endorser, while Brady retains some authenticity." Luker on Trends Founder Rich Luker noted Brady is "in the top five for 90% of the demos most important to us. He is healthy and seems likely to play at a top level for more years. Finally, there is no substantial social noise about him and he has not been over-marketed." Brady will tie the record for the number of Super Bowls starts by a QB when the Patriots face the Giants this Sunday, and the N.Y. Daily News' Ralph Vacciano points out Brady has "stood the test of time." Vacciano: "Rodgers has had several good years and one Super Bowl. Brady has been doing this for a decade and sustained excellence matters." NYU's Boland said Brady's equity deal with Under Armour "has aligned him perfectly with the brand," noting such deals offer "highly favorable tax treatment" as they are subject to lower capital gains rates instead of income tax rates. Boland: "Theoretically, I might be tempted to breach a contract when someone offers me more money, but not if it were to hurt my stock value, and that is the bigger endgame."
Even without playing a down this season, Peyton Manning remains relevant as a pitchman
PEYTON'S PLACE: Peyton Manning, who topped THE DAILY's last Most Marketable NFL Player survey in '06, remained in the mix and finished third despite missing the entire '11 season with a neck injury. IMG's Alan Zucker handles marketing for Manning, his brother Eli and his father Archie. Peyton has appeared in a slew of marketing campaigns for brands such as Sony, DirecTV, Gatorade, MasterCard, Sprint and Nabisco's Oreo Double Stuf cookies. In a clear indication that brand managers still believe in his marketing prowess, Manning stars alongside Jerome Bettis in a Papa John's/Pepsi Max activation around the Super Bowl at Lucas Oil Stadium. Turnkey Intelligence Senior VP Steve Seiferheld said, "If Peyton plays lights-out next year, he can pick up where he left off on the marketing side. But if he fades into some level of irrelevance, or if he gets hurt again, brands will have to tread carefully." Burns Entertainment & Sports Marketing President Doug Shabelman said the injury "may have taken a little luster off" Manning as an endorser, but on the other hand, his team's struggles in his absence "highlight his impact even more." By contrast, Eli Manning came in seventh in the survey, even in a season when his team is playing for its second Super Bowl title in five years. Shabelman noted while Eli has appeared in campaigns for some big brands, like Citizen watches and Oreo (with his brother), marketers "just don't see him as that guy to center a campaign around." His personality is "a little more laid back" than his brother's, and his "numbers don't stand out as much." Also, there is "somewhat of a shadow issue" with Peyton having come into the league first as an impact player. The N.Y. Daily News' Vacciano said, "If the Giants win the Super Bowl, I'm sure Eli gets a boost, but I still think he's got an image problem when it comes to marketability. If you think of his non-football image, it's stiff, aloof."
Jockey was an early adopter of Tebowmania, signing QB to a three-year deal in July '10
TEBOW OR NOT TEBOW?: At number five in the survey is newcomer Tim Tebow, who is represented by CAA's Jimmy Sexton. He has deals with Jockey, Nike, and FRS nutrition products and was recently voted America's favorite pro athlete in an ESPN Sports Poll, a signal that fans who like him tend to do so with greater than average fervor. Luker, who founded the ESPN Sports Poll, said, "He could be a flash in the pan, but he was the quickest to rise to favorite active athlete in America so I can’t bet against him. He may be the future." But Boston Univ. communications professor Chris Cakebread said Tebow has "done nothing long term and is more known for his views on Christianity than his football ability." Bill Sutton pointed to uncertainty about Tebow's playing ability, rather than any worries about his religious views: "Still too much uncertainty regarding whether or not he is the real thing and that is not good for marketers and advertisers." Others felt Tebow's marketing potential is strong, but limited in certain respects. Octagon First Call Managing Dir David Schwab: "I would put Tim Tebow in my top five because of national/mainstream sponsors that would underwrite his Foundation work -- not NFL sponsors." One thing is certain: more than any other player in the survey, Tebow is a buzz word in pop culture. He is a constant subject of jokes on late night TV shows; ESPN's "SportsCenter" devoted an entire show to him; and he even brought the term "Tebowing" into the lexicon. Yet, it remains to be seen whether Tebowmania will translate into marketability over the long haul.
One expert calls Brees' family-themed spot for Vicks VapoRub "marketing gold"
EASY, BREES-Y: Like Tebow, Drew Brees projects a clean, wholesome image, but is viewed by many experts as more of a sure thing from a marketing standpoint. He is repped by CAA's Tom Condon and has appeared in marketing efforts for Pepsi, Advocare Muscle Fuel, TRX Training Flip Video and Vicks brands NyQuil and VapoRub. Engage's Kevin Adler said Brees brings to the table a combination of record-setting on-field performance and a "remarkably consistent brand," noting, "You can't find negative chatter about Drew Brees." Adler referred to a recent VapoRub commercial, in which Brees helps his son get to sleep, as "marketing gold." Adding to this image is a plethora of charitable endeavors, many of them linked to New Orleans' ongoing recovery from Hurricane Katrina or the Gulf Coast's more recent disaster, the BP oil spill. The Marketing Arm's Matt Fleming: "What he’s done off the field and in the community is what really strengthens his reputation." Sports business blogger Ken Fang said, "The fact that Drew Brees adopted New Orleans as his home and engrained himself as part of the community has helped his appeal. Had the Miami Dolphins signed him, Brees' image might have been totally different. … Being a Super Bowl-winning quarterback helps too."
Head-scratcher? Polamalu's distinctive look makes his tie-in with Head & Shoulders anything but
CAPTAIN D: While QBs were the story in this year's poll, the three non-QBs to make the top 11 were defensive players: Steelers S Troy Polamalu, Packers LB Clay Matthews and Ravens LB Ray Lewis. All three happen to have health & beauty product deals -- Polamalu with Head & Shoulders, Matthews with Unilever's Suave brand and Lewis with Old Spice. Matthews and Lewis have one more thing in common in that they are repped by Athletes First. Turnkey's Steve Seiferheld: "Defenders give you toughness, grit, durability. If I’m selling trucks, tires, tools -- anything where I want endurance despite tough conditions -- I want a defender." Marquette Univ. professor Jim Pokrywczynski said, "Defense continues to rise in value." Polamalu fared the best among defensive players at the six spot in our survey. Dan Durbin, Dir of the Institute of Sports, Media & Society for USC's Annenberg School for Communications & Journalism, said Polamalu is an "outstanding athlete" with a "strong brand image (hair), positive public image." He also is "happy to use self-deprecating humor, on top of his game -- pretty much everything you want in a brand image." Excluding QBs, defenders overall fared much better than offensive skill positions in our survey, with Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald (T-13th) having the best showing of any non-QB on the offensive side of the ball.
Editorial Assistant Lewis Martin contributed to this report.