The Super Bowl has evolved into the most explosive star-making event in America, and Carolina quarterback Cam Newton is about to emerge as a household name. The NFL is not only this country's most popular sport, it is the most popular televised entertainment and the most dominant cultural obsession. Week after week it tops the television Nielsen ratings, 45 million people are estimated to play fantasy football and NFL memorabilia is everywhere. The Super Bowl was watched by 114 million people last year. The matchup of the Carolina Panthers versus the Denver Broncos promises to vault Newton onto a prime-time stage.
Peyton Manning, the Denver quarterback, has been an endorsement fixture for years. He is on his way to the Hall of Fame. It is impossible to watch television without seeing him as the pitchman for Papa John's Pizza, Nationwide, Buick, Gatorade, Nike and endless companies.
Cam Newton is a fresh story. He is movie-star handsome and charismatic. He speaks well and is the leading candidate for MVP this year. He is a new mode of Superman-type quarterback and dominated last Sunday's NFC championship game against Arizona. Thousands of sports journalists will decamp in San Francisco this Sunday, and he will be the No. 1 topic of hundreds of stories. Football is a quarterback-centric game, with the QB cast as the leading man. The game will be promoted as Manning v. Newton.
Newton is a classic American success story. He won the Heisman Trophy, emblematic of the best player in college football. He led his Auburn team to the national championship. He was selected with the first pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. If he leads his team to victory on February 7 and plays well, he will enter the post-game celebrity-making machine. There are endless television shows and periodicals all focusing on interesting people as celebrities. America will get a chance to know him.
I have represented winning Super Bowl quarterbacks, Dallas' Troy Aikman, San Francisco's Steve Young and Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger. The moment they left the field after being named MVP and winning the game, their profile and life was changed forever. We were already contacting potential endorsers far in advance of the game to set the stage for what might come. We had a plan, and we were ready to move quickly. The key was long-term contracts with companies in different product categories using campaigns with high production values. Players like Steve Young and Troy Aikman are still doing national endorsements twenty years later.
Newton already has key endorsements with Under Armour, Beats by Dre, Dannon, L'Oreal among others, but if he has anticipated the outcome and his team is ready to move quickly, he will emerge as the newest endorsement sweetheart. Concerns about his game celebrations will fade. He is smart and savvy and will craft his own image in the weeks to come. A Star Is Born!
-- 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 @leighsteinberg.