Quarterbacks are winning the NFL’s endorsement game

Football Locker Room

Quarterbacks, man. They have it all. The glory. The girl (according to Hollywood, anyway). And as stated in various reports, they earn the most endorsement dollars, too. Of the top ten NFL players with the highest endorsement earnings according to Forbes and USA Today, nine are quarterbacks, with football cyborg JJ Watt occupying the only non-signal caller spot.

The NFL’s Top 10 Highest-Paid Athlete Endorsers

Top ten NFL players, ranked by their reported endorsement earnings

The 2015 NFL season will kick off with quarterbacks headlining endorsement campaigns from DirecTV, Gatorade, Wrangler, Under Armour, State Farm, and American Family Insurance to name just a few.

Marketing teams are not arbitrarily deciding that these quarterbacks will be the best allocation of their advertising dollars; fans are helping to make the decision for them. Quarterbacks sit atop the highest-selling jerseys list with six of the top ten, and 13 of the top 24. Of course, no list of the NFL’s top selling jerseys would be complete without a Tim Tebow sighting.

Top Selling NFL Player Jerseys

Highest selling NFL Player JerseysBest selling jerseys in the NFL

Consider Jameis Winston, an unproven rookie, albeit the No. 1 overall draft pick. Winston will take snaps for a perennially mediocre team, and brings with him a history of on-field turnover problems, and off-field legal and judgement issues. Potential matters aside, Winston has been ranked No. 8 on the NFL Players Inc.’s 2015 Rising 50 — a list of up-and-coming marketing stars — and owns the eighth-best selling jersey among all NFL players.

The fact is that when a quarterback flashes potential or has success, it is very likely they will be cast as the face of the franchise. They will receive the most marketing opportunities, with the highest-profile brands. It’s a risk that franchises, marketers, and fans are all willing to take.

So, Why Are Quarterbacks so Marketable?

Weight On Their Shoulder Pads
Quarterbacks touch the ball (almost) every offensive snap of every game. A team’s successes and failures fall on their shoulders, especially among fans and media. Does a receiver have a big game? Well, the quarterback got him the ball. Did the offensive line give up too many sacks? The quarterback needs to deal with pressure better. Simply put, the quarterback of an NFL team is the hero or the scapegoat, often with little room in between.

While quarterbacks take a lot of heat, when things are good, they’re good. Fourteen of the NFL’s fifteen richest contracts belong to quarterbacks, with Andrew Luck poised to take over the No. 1 spot this upcoming offseason. In the NFL, a suitable quarterback means security, sales, and the potential for success. Clearly, franchises and marketers are willing to pay for it.

Bringing Hope to the Downtrodden
Hope is a vital quality for fans of any organization. Eventually, your team will fall on hard times. When this happens, nothing brings more hope than a shiny, new quarterback. New quarterbacks — whether acquired through the Draft, blockbuster trades, or free agency coups — are nirvana to languishing fanbases.

Have you heard the cries of joy out of Philadelphia for Sam Bradford’s first season with the team? It’s like the quarterback form of Rocky Balboa is lacing up the cleats and taking snaps for the Eagles. No, really, Bradford is given the full Rocky treatment in this hype video.

The “new toy” quarterbacks tend to be the most beloved among fan bases. They haven’t been around long enough for their deficiencies to be dissected on a micro level. Being zero-and-zero can bring more good faith than years of unprecedented success.

Just last season, there were whispers in New England about benching the aging Tom Brady for the unproven Jimmy Garappolo. Four months later, Bostonians had another Lombardi Trophy to celebrate, Deflategate be damned. This has happened with many an accomplished, but aging quarterback. Even Peyton Manning, perhaps the greatest statistical quarterback ever, had his detractors in Indianapolis because he only won one Super Bowl.

While marketers are slower than fans to waiver on the proven stars like Brady and Manning, they are quick to pursue the rising up-and-comers. Often, getting in early works out. But occasionally, major brands like adidas end up with multi-million dollar campaigns built around an eventual backup.

From Snap Counts to Spot Scripts
In quarterbacks, marketers can often expect a comfortable communicator. Not only are do they tend to act as verbal leaders in the locker room, their job description requires the ability to bark audible orders in front of 70 thousand noisy fans. While many successful athletes take time and coaching to polish their presentation skills, quarterbacks have been relied upon to communicate throughout their playing career.

Being at the focal point of each play, pre-snap, puts them in the spotlight and on display. This familiarizes fans and creates recognition of their unique voice and tendencies. Hell, a couple years ago, Peyton Manning had the whole country yelling “Omaha!” because of what he did before the snap.

This familiarity is a valued asset that marketers attribute to the recognition, trust, and affinity that audiences have for specific players.

The NFL is the most popular sport in the U.S., and quarterbacks are the sport’s most prevalent, and thus, most marketable position group. While budding non-quarterback superstars like Odell Beckham Jr. and JJ Watt are firmly in the mix for endorsement opportunities, there’s just no beating the metaphoric hero of American sports — the quarterback.

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