Peyton Manning is calling it an NFL career.
"I fought the good fight. I have finished my football race. After 18 years, it is time," the defending Super Bowl champion quarterback said Monday.
But for one of professional sports' most marketable athletes, how will leaving the playing field affect his status as a brand pitchman? "He's always going to be a hero for the audience that grew up with him," said Dom Curran, U.S. CEO of sports marketing at Synergy. "He'll always have that marketability."
The question for Manning is not what he does in the first year or two after he steps away but how he cultivates his post-NFL image five to 10 years down the road. "He won't have the constraint of being a player," said Curran, who thinks Manning could start pitching brands beyond the likes of Papa John's Pizza, Nationwide and Oreos. "He can be a broader personality."
And Curran doesn't expect there to be pushback against Manning in light of a 1996 incident—recently brought back into the public consciousness—involving the quarterback and former University of Tennessee trainer Dr. Jamie Naughright. "He dealt with that," Curran concluded.
With Manning gone, the NFL also loses one of its greatest rivalries: Manning vs. Brady. The two faced off yearly, including three times in the AFC Championship game. And like Manning, New England Patriots star Tom Brady is staring down his own football mortality, meaning the league and the brands that want to be associated with it are looking toward a younger crop of star quarterbacks—such as Manning's Super Bowl 50 opponent.
"You've got a guy who appealed perfectly to Generation X, and now you've potentially got to start finding people like Cam Newton who appeal to a new generation," Curran said. "As a millennial marketing target, he's bang on."
Most onlookers expect Manning to end up on television as an analyst or a broadcaster. The main NFL broadcasters—NBC, CBS, FOX, ESPN and NFL Network—could all vie for his services, leaving Manning to take his pick.
Adweek reached out to NBC, CBS and FOX, which all said it's too soon to make that call. An ESPN spokesperson added, "If he decides to pursue a career as a commentator, we would certainly be open to exploring that possibility with him."
But Curran has no doubt Manning will end up in broadcasting, pointing out that he is one of the most cerebral players in the league. "What he'd be able to offer to broadcasting could be pretty interesting and pretty detailed," Curran said.
His ability to be insightful and speak clearly is what could separate Manning from other former players who have tried, and failed, at broadcasting.
"We've seen many great players who don't make great broadcasters," Curran said. "He has the hallmarks to go on and do that."