The Super Bowl, including the two weeks that precede it, is the most impactful marketing opportunity for individual players in sports today. If a quarterback performs dramatically Sunday and is selected Most Valuable Player, it sets the stage for untold millions in endorsements for years to come. Compelling back-stories and attractive personality can add to the appeal. It is because the Super Bowl and the activities around it escape the genre of hardcore football fans and reach a massive audience in the United States and around the world. People who would not ordinarily watch an NFL game or read a story are caught up in the drama of this game.
The past NFL season generated some of the highest television ratings ever. The Nielsen ratings -- which list the 90 most popular television shows each week -- were often dominated by nighttime NFL games. In some weeks the Top 5 rated shows were a combination of NFL games and pre-game shows. Whoever thought that "Football Night in America," a nighttime pre-game show would outrank "Two and a Half Men," "NCIS," "Dancing With The Stars" and every other brand of television entertainment?
The media coverage of the Super Bowl is much more expansive than even Sunday Night Football. Hundreds of newspapers, magazines, talk radio, and websites dedicate major space to the weeks leading up to the game. Thousands of writers invaded New Orleans last week.
I sat on top of a float inside the New Orleans Convention Center on Friday doing an interview with local radio station WWL. As I sat in the shadow of a giant crawfish, I met Mayor Mitch Landrieu and talked about the impact of the game. As far as the eye could see in every direction was a village of live talk radio shows. I talked my way across America show by show. Here was Miami, there Chicago, and in the distance, a Los Angeles crew. There were national and local television shows broadcasting live from elaborate sets. The week is a convention of Americana with stars from politics, business, sports and entertainment visiting the Convention Center to raise their profile.
Once the game ends, the right athlete can be pulled into the modern celebrity making publicity machine. Hundreds of magazines, magazine television shows, television and radio talk shows, newspapers and Internet sites all are dedicated to interesting people.
When I represented winning Super Bowl quarterbacks like Dallas' Troy Aikman, San Francisco's Steve Young and Pittsburgh;s Ben Roethlisberger, I watched them participating in interview after interview in the ensuing days and weeks. The audience for these shows cuts through every demographic. A viewer may see the lucky athlete presented in a variety of formats and become elevated in recognition.
Madison Avenue tracks this process looking for athletes who can achieve high Q ratings -- the ability to recognize a person in a positive way, that can be used to transfer positive feelings to a product. The right athlete is wise to only select one affiliation in each product category -- breakfast foods, apparel, automotive, financial services, soft drinks and content platforms. The key is to try and sign long-term deals that will continue year after year, allowing an association of an athlete with a product.
Steve Young worked with American Express, Frito-Lay, Sun Microsystems over an extended period of years. The commercials themselves build athlete recognition. Only a small percentage of the public regularly watches NBA games but Michael Jordan had a recognition factor of almost 100 percent at his height with the American public. They saw him in high-production value ads run respectively for Nike, Hanes and other companies.
Notwithstanding the recent spate of Manti Te'o and Lance Armstrong type scandals, the public still loves an athletic role model.
The biggest potential beneficiaries of the pre-game build up and game coverage, and the most likely participants in the post-game celebrity buildup are the quarterbacks. Game coverage casts them as the leading men in the drama, and their name recognition is many multiples of that of a offensive linemen. Joe Flacco could garner the most largesse for winning the MVP award. Baltimore's Ray Lewis is a colorful, longtime defense standout who played his last game. Winning coach John Harbaugh will also have opportunities. The most dramatic achievers from Sunday will burst into stardom for years to come.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @SteinbergSports.
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