For the current crop of Seahawks, there’s much more at stake in New Jersey than the biggest prize in football. Some key players also face the prospect of reaping major bucks from off-the-field opportunities.
The Seahawks’ dramatic run-up to the Super Bowl has drawn the nation’s eyes to a collection of relatively underpaid and underexposed athletes.
It also has given a platform to unscripted antics — in particular Richard Sherman’s adrenaline-fueled outburst against 49er Michael Crabtree after the National Football Conference title game last Sunday, which transcended football fandom to dominate social media and nightly newscasts. This sudden ascent from regional celebrity to national fame can be worth millions in endorsement deals with national advertisers.
“Brands are interested,” said James Fritz, Richard Sherman’s agent, who added that he and his client have been putting conversations with advertisers on hold since November.
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“Obviously this past week, the explosion in social media, the fact that he’s trending in Poland, the fact that he’s anything everybody’s talking about is phenomenal,” Fritz said. “I expect a lot of big stuff.”
The attention garnered by Sherman, a fifth-round draft pick who as cornerback is a linchpin of the team’s rugged defense, is the most dramatic illustration of the Seahawks newfound glory.
Others also have grabbed a share of the spotlight: a Duracell ad highlighting how Derrick Coleman overcame his hearing impairment to become an NFL player has become an Internet sensation, seen nearly 10 million times on YouTube.
But no one stands to win more than down-to-earth quarterback Russell Wilson.
“He is not an average quarterback. He’s one of the good, young, exciting, upscale quarterbacks,” said Mike Cramer, director of the Texas Program in Sports and Media at the University of Texas in Austin. Unlike his teammate Sherman, he is quite “noncontroversial,” Cramer said — a combination that works like catnip for advertisers.
Wilson late last year added Microsoft and Alaska Airlines to endorsement deals with Nike, Pepsi and insurance company American Family, said his agent, Mark Rodgers.
“Russell has begun to create a personality and a personal brand that corporate America is fascinated by,” Rodgers said. In the last year and a half Wilson has received a “very steady flow” of opportunities; “over the last week or so it’s escalated,” he said.
At stake is a lot of cash, an especially significant reward for younger players like Sherman and Wilson, who make $555,000 (No. 40 on the Seahawks’ 53-man roster), and $526,217 (No. 44), respectively, according to Fox Sports. They’re among the lowest paid Seahawks because they’re rookies picked late in the draft; they cannot renegotiate their contracts until they have played for three seasons per NFL rules. Sherman was picked in 2011 and Wilson in 2012.
Joe Flacco, quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens, Super Bowl XLVII victors, drew in $850,000 in endorsements, according to a 2013 Forbes report. Superstar Drew Brees, the New Orleans Saints’ quarterback, made $11 million in endorsements in the June 2012-June 2013 season, Forbes said.
It’s hard to predict the outcome for most of the players, said David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. Deals range from six- to seven-figure multiyear endorsements for a Super Bowl Most Valuable Player to a $10,000 to $15,000 ribbon-cutting deal at a car dealership for a more obscure teammate, he said.
But, first, they have to win the Super Bowl to secure even a fleeting spot in the national psyche, although well-positioned players like Wilson are often offered deals that are not contingent on victory. Then, they have to look good for the cameras. “These athletes have to realize that every time they open their mouth they’re helping or harming their ability to generate revenue,” Carter said.
Even then, Seattle is not a major media market; its remote location vis-à-vis the rest of the country means players here are likely to strike less enticing deals with advertisers than, say, players from major population hubs like New York, Southern California or the big Texas cities, experts say.
But the biggest hurdle the players have to face is the fickle nature of glory. Most athletes only shine for a season — then their access to lucrative endorsement deals fades.
“How many Kobe Bryants and LeBron Jameses are there? Not many,” the University of Texas’ Cramer said of two NBA superstars. To endure not only must one be “perceived to be the very best at the game that you’re in. There has to be a connection with the public.”
The Seahawks already have scored a fair share of high-profile pitching gigs, like Coleman’s Duracell ad, or Wilson’s recent deals with Microsoft and Alaska Airlines. But local endorsements are a critical part of their income.
Marshawn Lynch, who has trademarked the nickname ”Beast Mode” for use in sunglasses, clothing and other products, stars in an ad for Seattle company Beacon Plumbing. Lynch pulls in $7 million a year to play, the third-highest salary on the team.
Sherman has plenty of local deals, starting with telecommunications provider CenturyLink, regional lender Kiel Mortgage and Sunset Chevrolet. Last week the Sumner-based Chevy dealership proudly posted a banner on its website, titled ”Shoppin’ with Sherm.“
Fritz, Sherman’s agent, declined to say how much the cornerback made from ad deals, but said that they “pay Richard more than the Seattle Seahawks.”
Fritz said that Sherman’s personal story of growing up in a tough part of Los Angeles, graduating from Stanford University and, despite being a low draft pick, emerging as a star of the Seahawks “Legion of Boom” secondary will offset the controversy generated by his outburst.
Recent media appearances, including a TV interview on CNN where Sherman acknowledged that the taunting of his 49ers rival was immature, should give fans a clear view of Sherman’s intelligence and character, the agent said.
If anything, Sherman’s outspokenness should attract advertisers, Fritz said.
Brands “are excited at the fact that in a world that is full of media training and everybody is so P.C., here’s a guy who’s willing to speak his mind,” Fritz said.
But Sherman might be walking a fine line as corporations have become wary of sports luminaries in the wake of publicity nightmares.
“A perception exists that these athletes are very risky,” USC’s Carter said. Moreover, the explosion of social media means “there really is no privacy for the athletes,” he said.
That said, he added that some cutting-edge brands may embrace controversy.
In a way, Sherman’s edgy Beats by Dre headphones commercial, which aired after the day of the NFC Championship, seems to capture the moment: It portrays an overwhelmed Sherman blocking out a gaggle of aggressive reporters by putting headphones on.
Duvall-based David Meyers, who publishes an investment newsletter promoted by Sherman, said his subscriber base doubled since the Seahawk started tweeting about his stock pickings.
But Meyers also felt the ripples of last Sunday’s outburst, receiving tweets and emails that criticized his relationship with Sherman. So he posted a long defense of Sherman in his website, saying that the incident “doesn’t take anything away from how nice, genuine, funny and caring this guy is.”
Ultimately, though, the controversy may work in Sherman’s favor, Meyers said. After all, Sherman’s followers on Twitter soared from 268,000 on Jan. 19 to 587,000 on Jan. 20, the day after his rant, a Twitter spokesman said. As of Friday, Sherman had 687,000 followers.
“Unintentionally he has brought tons of exposure,” Meyers said. “He’s going to end up with a huge endorsement as a result of this.”
Ángel González; 206-464-2250 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @gonzalezseattle