New NFL Program Coaches Players on Building Their Brand

Being a better marketer is now part of the league's official playbook

Building a brand offers players an option to grow outside of their football careers.
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While endorsing products is hardly new territory for NFL stars—remember that breakthrough Noxzema ad with Joe Namath and Charlie’s Angels star Farrah Fawcett that aired during the 1973 Super Bowl?—the league hasn’t offered any official coaching on how its players can be better marketers. Until now.

NFL chief marketing officer Tim Ellis is embarking on a first-time off-season program for athletes to enhance how they present themselves in digital, especially social media. “We’ll have skilled professionals come in to help players build their brands,” Ellis explains. “It will cover everything from strategy to the more practical aspects including how athletes should film themselves and more.”

Ellis sees tremendous potential as social media and streaming content continue to provide a platform for the NFL’s players. It’s a wide digital field on which to play, bringing them even closer to fans.

“There’s a huge opportunity now for big professional athletes to become true marketers and to build their own brands,” he says. “You now even see younger athletes, before they get to the pros, who are building their brands at a very early age.”

“It’s very important to build a brand identity for yourself so you can have something to stand on when you’re done with football,” adds Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson. “You’re going to be a human being longer than you’re going to be a football player.”

Even without the training, some players have proven to be naturals when it comes to self-promotion. Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller has 1.6 million Instagram followers and his own YouTube channel featuring a playlist of brand partnerships—with many of the videos having racked up hundreds of thousands of views and some (NFL Madden 2017, for instance) garnering more than 2 million. As the Super Bowl 50 MVP explains, he’s looking for long-term commercial viability beyond his active playing years.

“You can’t get an endorsement deal without the performance on the football field,” he notes. “[And] when you get those deals, you don’t want it to be one or two years—you want to keep it for the rest of your career.”

Ellis, too, is thinking long term. He says that while the sport itself drives fandom, giving viewers access to the individual athletes is what will help push the league forward. “We look at the players as key partners in helping us continue to build the brand of football,” he says. “It’s great for them, and it’s great for the NFL.”

Be sure to also check out Adweek’s cover story on the making of the NFL’s ambitious Super Bowl ad kicking off its 100th-season celebrations.

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This story first appeared in the Jan. 28, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.