NEW YORK — Quarterback Russell Wilson and his Seattle Seahawks teammates came to the New York area and won not only the Super Bowl but, in the part that matters to companies seeking athlete endorsers, the hearts and minds of those watching on television.
In the afterglow of their 43-8 victory over the Denver Broncos and their platinum endorser, quarterback Peyton Manning, Madison Avenue executives will flock to Wilson, said Bob Dorfman, executive director at San Francisco-based Baker Street Advertising. The win, Dorfman said, will result in at least another $2 million in endorsements, about four times what the second-year player was paid by the Seahawks this season.
“Small in stature, big in performance, personality, brains, charisma and hair, Russell Wilson has the goods to be a convincing — and scandal-free — pitchman for years to come,” Dorfman said in an email during Sunday night’s game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., which marked the National Football League’s first attempt at a cold-weather, outdoor Super Bowl.
The Broncos surrendered a safety on the first play from scrimmage when the center’s snap sailed over Manning’s head and into the end zone. Things only got worse. Manning finished with a Super Bowl-record 34 completions in 49 attempts with one touchdown and two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown by game Most Valuable Player Malcolm Smith. Wilson completed 18 of his 25 passes with two scores.
“We weren’t sharp offensively from the get-go,” Manning said. “We needed to play really well in order to win, and we didn’t come anywhere close to that.”
The game was a breakthrough for the 5-foot-11 Wilson, who graduated from North Carolina State University in three years, completing his degree in broadcasting and communications before transferring to the University of Wisconsin.
“It’ll help that he’s intelligent, articulate and squeaky clean,” Dorfman said.
The 25-year-old Wilson outperformed the 37-year-old Manning, a four-time NFL Most Valuable Player who pocketed an NFL-best $13 million in endorsement income last year from a portfolio that includes Buick, Reebok, DirecTV and Papa John’s International Inc. Manning was paid about $17.5 million by the Broncos.
Wilson’s endorsement partners, according to Dorfman, are Seattle-based Alaska Airlines, Nike, Levi Strauss and American Family Mutual Insurance Co., which is based in Madison, Wis. In all, he makes about $1 million a year off the field, Dorfman estimated.
Among the companies and categories that make sense for Wilson are what Dorfman called high-IQ brands like Apple, Intel and Microsoft, which was co-founded by Seahawks owner Paul Allen. Fast-food companies and men’s fashion and grooming — particularly, hair care products — also make sense, said Dorfman, noting that Wilson’s penchant for pronouncements of religious faith might give some advertisers pause.
“He wears his faith on his sleeve a little too much,” he said. “But better than the misbehaving, drug-taking, DUI- earning alternative.”
Paul Swangard, the managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, said Wilson “is primed to establish himself as the next-generation NFL pitchman.”
“It’s almost impossible to get personality and performance in the same NFL player package without some off-the-field risk,” Swangard said. “Wilson seems as mainstream and clean cut as they come and that’s exactly what makes an NFLer marketable.”
The hair has a back story.
Wilson at the beginning of the season found an old photograph of his late father, Harrison, and him during his junior year of high school. The father and son had decided to grow their hair out until the boy’s football team reached the state championship with him as their quarterback.
Wilson, who credits his father as his guiding influence, began growing his hair out at the beginning of the season in homage to the man who died from complications from diabetes in 2010.
Wilson after the game said he and his teammates heeded the advice of his father.
“He used to always tell me, ‘Russ, why not you?’ ” said Wilson, a two-sport athlete in college who was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the fourth round of the 2010 Major League Baseball draft. ”And what that meant was to believe in yourself. Even though you are 5-foot-11, you can go a long ways. That’s why I decided to play football. I wanted to go against the odds a little bit.”
Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, whose boastful rant after the National Football Conference championship game became a dominant storyline heading into the Super Bowl, said Wilson ”deserved this as much as anybody.”
No NFL player has more mainstream appeal than Manning, who is the most trustworthy athlete in the United States according to Repucom, a global sports market research agency. He’s also the most influential athlete, ahead of five-time National Basketball Association Most Valuable Player Michael Jordan, and the most well-liked in America, Repucom says.
Manning missed out on more than becoming the first quarterback to lead multiple franchises to Super Bowl championships. A second ring, marketers said, would have meant another $3 million to $5 million annually and catapulted him into an iconic group of athlete endorsers that includes Jordan, former soccer player David Beckham and golfer Tiger Woods.
Steve Rosner, co-founder and partner in Rutherford, N.J.-based 16W Sports Marketing, whose clients include former NFL quarterbacks Phil Simms and Boomer Esiason, in a telephone interview during the game said Wilson’s biggest benefit will come from the most-watched U.S. sports league’s desire to make him the face of football.
”He’s everything right about the NFL,” Rosner said of Wilson. “When the NFL comes calling, the league sponsors are going to line up.”