Big-mouthed Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman has emerged as the most polarizing, and bankable, defensive back on Madison Avenue since Deion "Prime Time" Sanders and Troy Polamalu.
After three days of media moralizing, you're probably sick of the debate over whether Mr. Sherman's post-game rant to Fox's Erin Andrews on Sunday was a real moment of honesty and emotion in the cliche-ridden world of sports -- or the worst kind of look-at-me posturing. But Madison Avenue is just getting started with the marketing-savvy Mr. Sherman, who boasts national deals with Nike and Beats by Dr. Dre as well as a local deal with telecom company CenturyLink.
Since his nationally televised tirade about Michael Crabtree of the San Francisco 49ers set Twitter ablaze, the phone's been ringing off the hook, according to his marketing agent Jamie Fritz of Fritz Martin Management in Las Vegas. Beverage and quick-service restaurant brand marketers are particularly interested in the 25-year-old Stanford graduate for both traditional and digital ad campaigns.
But Mr. Sherman is interested in national, multi-year partnerships, not one-off deals, said his marketing rep -- in other words, the kind of deals Prime Time had with the likes of Pepsi and Burger King. He's also not signing new deals until after Super Bowl XLVIII, according to Mr. Fritz. That's a risk. But his price will only go up if Mr. Sherman's Seahawks beat the Denver Broncos on Feb. 2, and if Mr. Sherman plays against Peyton Manning the way he did against Colin Kaepernick.
"We haven't seen a guy like this in a while," Mr. Fritz. "Deion has been retired for some time. Deion was a little bit more flamboyant and celebratory. But Richard's a guy who's going to speak his mind. And that makes people very curious. We have data that Richard is single-handedly growing the Seattle Seahawks fan base in Middle America -- where [Seahawks] fans would not exist."
With the exception of the aging Mr. Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers (who has a deal with Procter & Gamble's Head & Shoulders shampoo), most NFL athletic endorsements flow to quarterbacks such as Mr. Manning of the Broncos and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. But the outspoken Mr. Sherman is ready to blitz the QB party.
Here are 10 reasons why Mr. Sherman is emerging as the breakout marketing star of Super Bowl XLVIII:
HE'S A RISING AD STAR: The Stanford grad knows how to turn up the volume when the red TV lights come on. Nike and Beats by Dr. Dre were smart enough to cast the third-year pro in national TV spots -- and run them during Fox's telecast of the Seahawks' NFC Championship Game win over the 49ers Sunday. The Beats by Dr. Dre spot presciently foretold the Twitter storm over Mr. Sherman by having a faux reporter ask him about his alleged "thug" reputation. Naturally, execs at Beats by Dr. Dre were all smiles after their endorser dominated coverage Sunday night. "We know him, so no one was surprised," said Omar Johnson, exec VP-global branding. "For us, it was just like, 'That's Richard.' Because our spot was so authentic to him, in the heat of that moment, he kind of replayed our spot on live TV."
HE'S A GREAT VILLAIN: Every drama needs a villain. With his on-air trashing of Mr. Crabtree as "sorry" competition, Mr. Sherman came off like a pro wrestling heel on par with Rowdy Roddy Piper or Ric Flair. Never mind that he later profusely apologized for taking attention away from teammates after their win against the defending NFC champs. He's the bad guy to Mr. Manning's good guy. There's already a billboard in Denver trolling him for having "No Class" as opposed to Broncos defensive back Champ Bailey.
HE'S GOT A GREAT BACK STORY: People who know Mr. Sherman personally will tell you he's bright, articulate and a great guy off the field. He helps kids and schools. He's an underdog who grew up in crime-ridden Compton, Calif., where the choice often seems to be between gangs or jail. Mr. Sherman chose education, and that's what he tells kids in schools, said Mr. Fritz. He studies game film 30 or 40 hours a week. He's got a memory like a computer. Put it all together, and Madison Avenue can portray him as either a Good, Bad Guy or Bad, Good Guy. That's better than a one-dimensional personality.
HE'S GOT SWAGGER: Who do you think Madison Avenue's more intrigued by?
HE'S MEDIA-SAVVY: Rather than let Twitter label him a thug, Mr. Sherman shrewdly used Sports Illustrated's MMQB.com to explain himself on Monday. In a piece called "To Those Who Would Call Me a Thug or Worse," Mr. Sherman explained he had an ongoing beef with Mr. Crabtree that went back to the off-season. His post-game tirade was part-adrenalin-fueled, part personal dislike. "It was loud, it was in the moment, and it was just a small part of the person I am. I don't want to be a villain, because I'm not a villainous person," he wrote. Driven by Mr. Sherman, SI Digital posted its highest-traffic day ever with more than 4.3 million unique visitors, according to Omniture.
HE FILLS THE MEDIA VOID: A record number of media are credentialed to cover Super Bowl XLVIII. This needy, grasping horde desperately needs something to write about during the off week. The outspoken Mr. Sherman fits the bill. The emerging media meme is already Mr. Sherman (not Mr. Wilson) vs. Mr. Manning. "The Super Bowl is heading to the media capital of the world, where Sherman will no doubt be positioned as the yang to Peyton Manning's yin," ESPN anchor Stan Verrett said on "SportsCenter," SportsBusiness Daily noted.
HES GOT FOX ATTITUDE: Fox prides itself on having "attitude." Which makes Mr. Sherman the perfect guy for the network's upcoming Super Bowl coverage. It's no coincidence Fox conducted multiple post-game interviews with him Sunday. The shutdown cornerback will be featured in a piece about the tough Seahawks defense during Fox's four-hour Super Bowl Sunday pregame show, said spokesman Lou D'Ermilio. And yes, he'll be interviewed again by Ms. Andrews, the network's star sideline reporter, who tweeted she loved his "emotion" Sunday.
HE CONFRONTED TOM BRADY: Like all social media mavens, Mr. Sherman knows he has to punch upward, not downward, in his feuds. The national media first took notice of him when he boldly chased down and taunted three-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady after the Seahawks came from behind to beat the Patriots in 2012. Mr. Sherman then mocked Mr. Brady by tweeting a picture showing him jawing at the Pats QB with the caption: "U Mad Bro?" Despite Mr. Fritz's objections, Mr. Sherman's media clout went up higher when he went on TV to debate ESPN bomb-thrower Skip Bayless.
HE SELLS PRODUCT: Mr. Sherman ranks as the only defensive player among the Top 10 best-selling player jerseys at NFLShop.com this season, according to Darren Rovell of ESPN. His No. 25 jersey has risen several notches since the Seahawks began their post-season run to their second Super Bowl.
HE MAY BE A MARKETING GENIUS: Mr Sherman's post-game rant "was a well-thought out and smart move on his part," said Lee Teller, exec VP-sports and sponsorships for Matter, a New York-based sports-marketing firm that is part of Edelman. "He's inserted himself into the conversation around the Super Bowl in a big way. Otherwise all we would be talking about was Peyton Manning and New York and the weather."
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