Amid all the football, fun and folly to be had at this year's Super Bowl in New Orleans, there is business to be done. Lots of it.
What is a three-hour party on Sunday for many Americans is the busiest weekend of the year for those in the ever-expanding business of football. It's a convention, a reunion and a championship, all rolled into one.
This year is especially busy for David Dunn (on the right in the accompanying photo) and Brian Murphy (left), CEO and president, respectively, of the representation firm Athletes First. These men work with two of Super Bowl XLVII's most prominent figures -- Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh.
But Lewis and Harbaugh are just two of the dozens of clients Dunn and Murphy are responsible for in this whirlwind of a weekend. In a span of 72 hours, Dunn and Murphy will meet individually with each of their roughly 40 clients as well as wives, parents, coaches, GMs and sponsors.
And, oh yeah, they’ll make sure to squeeze in some time to watch the game Sunday.
"It used to be a game that had some business and some parties around it," Dunn told ThePostGame. "And now it seems to be almost the inverse."
Of the 40 or so clients represented by Athletes First who are in New Orleans for the weekend, only a handful are actually playing in Sunday's game. And because the 49ers and Ravens have tons of obligations -- media, practices, appearances, etc. -- Dunn and Murphy have little time with those players.
Dunn met with his clients on the Ravens and 49ers for one final time on Thursday night, to have dinner and see how they're feeling heading into Sunday's game. For most of the players, Dunn tells them what may seem obvious but what many forget -- that this Sunday’s matchup isn’t your average football game. Halftime is longer, the nerves are more intense, things are simply different.
With potential MVP candidates, Dunn has a different conversation. These players could be in for a wild ride after Sunday’s game, and Dunn wants to make sure they're aware of what's ahead.
Two years ago one of Dunn’s clients, Aaron Rodgers, was named MVP of Super Bowl XLV. After stepping off the podium at Cowboys Stadium, Rodgers’ next 36 hours went something like this: a long line of media interviews, a victory party in Dallas, appearances on Monday morning television programs, the MVP press conference, a flight to Disney World, a flight to New York for the David Letterman show and then a flight to Green Bay for the championship celebration.
"[Thursday night] is the last time you can sort of give someone the view of how nutty it's going to be after the game," Dunn said. "How, for a short, intense period of time, their lives aren’t really going to be their own."
Friday and Saturday are a whirlwind of meetings and events for Dunn and Murphy. They’ll sit down with each of their clients who is in New Orleans to discuss that player's year, how they’re feeling about their team, and in some cases, their pending free agency. Murphy says the meetings with players whose contracts are up can be the most interesting. During these discussions, Dunn and Murphy have to gauge how a player feels towards his team and if he would be interested in looking elsewhere.
While Dunn and Murphy are in these meetings, their other clients are bouncing around between their dozens of appearances. The days preceding the Super Bowl are perhaps the single best time of the year for a player to cash in on his image and build his business profile. This off-the-field marketing has become increasingly important for today's athletes.
"It used to be that my players wouldn't be self sufficient at the end of their careers," Dunn said. "That is, they’d play their careers out, they’d make a nice sum of money, but they wouldn’t be self-sufficient and they wouldn’t be able to live their lives on the money that they had made during their careers. Now the economics are such that players today can provide for generations to come."
These favorable economics are the result of a number of factors, most notably the NFL's extreme profitability. In an era where a diminishing number of events are seen live on television rather than recorded or viewed online, sports are one of the few fields in which live viewing is preferred. The captive audiences are gold mines for advertisers who will pay outlandish sums of money to the networks for commercial time. The networks, in turn, are writing humongous checks to the NFL for the rights to broadcast games.
Starting in 2014 and lasting for nine years, Fox, CBS and NBC will pay a combined average of $1.94 billion per season in rights fees to the NFL.
Everyone involved in the business of football is the beneficiary of this cash windfall.
"Americans are irrationally attracted to sports," Dunn said. "And the most prominent sport amongst them is football."
The weekend isn’t all business for Dunn, Murphy and their clients. For the second consecutive year, Athletes First has teamed up with the Starkey Hearing Foundation to hand out hearing aids in poverty-stricken neighborhoods. On Saturday afternoon, several Athletes First clients will fit residents in New Orleans’ Upper 9th Ward for hearing aids.
When Sunday rolls around, the game is a welcome respite for Murphy, Dunn and the rest of the agents who have been working all weekend.
"By the time we get to the game, we've been doing about 48 or 72 hours of business," Murphy said. "So we’re ready to sit down and just watch a football game like a normal fan."
But Dunn isn't off the hook just yet. He'll be at the Superdome, watching two dear friends battle for the sport’s ultimate prize. Dunn has represented the game’s MVP before, like Rodgers in 2011 and Desmond Howard in 1997, but this year is unique because of how long he's known both Harbaugh and Lewis. Harbaugh has been a client since his playing days, and Lewis has been onboard for a decade.
Dunn has seen them mature as men, he's seen their children grow up, and on Sunday he’ll see them simultaneously succeed and fall short on the nation’s biggest stage.
"I've just been around both families so much that it's going to be a little more personal than usual,” Dunn said.
After the game Dunn will have what he calls the "ministerial task" of chaperoning either the family of Lewis or Harbaugh onto the field to celebrate. And then he'll make his way to the losing locker room for the hard work.
"It’s easy to decide whether to go on Letterman or Leno,” Dunn said. "Our job is to deal with guys in times of distress."
If only the work ended there.
After the trophies are handed out and the confetti is swept up, Dunn and Murphy will have little time to rest. That’s because in a few weeks they’ll be on the road again, booking hotels, rental cars and late night dinner reservations. They’ll be meeting with players, making deals, losing sleep and preparing for the second biggest event of the year: the NFL Combine.
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