Why Rob Gronkowski Is Taking 2,500 Fans on a Ridiculously Lavish Pleasure Cruise

NFL star's sea voyage is just the latest extension of his brand

NFL star tight end Rob Gronkowski obviously knows how to play football. He's three years into a six-year contract worth $54 million with the New England Patriots. But the 26-year-old Gronkowski (or, as fans know him, just Gronk) is even better at playing the endorsement game.

Gronk has put his name and inimitable grin on Dunkin' Donuts, BodyArmor sports drink and Zubaz sweat pants, to name a few. In fact, "to this day, I still haven't touched one dime of my signing bonus or NFL contract money," Gronk revealed in his 2015 book, It's Good to Be Gronk. "I live off my marketing money."

Well, come early next year, Gronk will be able to stuff a few more bills into his piggy bank—but not from hawking clothes or food or another book. Nope. This time, Rob Gronkowski is going to sea.

On Feb. 19, 2016, Gronk's Party Ship will cast off from the Port of Miami on a three-day cruise to the Bahamas along with Gronk, his family and, says the website, "2,500 of his most hype'd up fans." There will be plenty of room for those fans, too: Gronk is taking over the 93,530-ton Norwegian Pearl—not just a block of cabins, the whole ship. To put this in Gronk scale, the ship is roughly two and a half football fields long. And to quote Gronk himself (in the promotional video), it's a "big-ass cruise ship," where everyone can "come hang out with the family, listen to music, play some games and get Gronk'd." (With 13 bars on board, getting suitably Gronk'd shouldn't be too hard at all.)

SixthMan, a themed-cruise operator owned by Norwegian Cruise Line, will be running the excursion that, in keeping with Gronk's party-boy reputation, promises to be nonstop bacchanalia. But according to communications director Alaidriale Derway, the big reason to buy a ticket is a chance to lift a brewski with the big man himself.

"What's really important for us is to break down the barriers between the fans and the brand," said Derway, who ticks off a list of activities that will be both Gronk-themed and Gronk-attended, including a Q&A session, a game of Family Feud and photo ops with Gronk or one of the Gronks ("Papa Gronk" Gordon, Chris, Gordie Jr., and "Baby Gronk" Glenn).

There's also an eight-hour beach party at a place called—wait for it—Gronk's Island, which is actually Great Stirrup Cay, a 250-acre cay that Norwegian bought from Belcher Oil Company in 1977.

Hanging with the Gronks won't come cheap: $225 per person, plus your quarters, which range from a $600 interior cabin to a $950 ocean view cabin on Deck 8. Nevertheless, Derway said the ship is mostly sold.

There's no word on how much of the proceeds will go to Gronk's hyped-up bank account, but he's hardly first to discover that going to sea can be a highly effective way to extend a brand, not to mention being a decent revenue source.

Next month, for example, six famous toques from the Bravo show Top Chef will board the Celebrity Reflection for a cruise filled with "duel-style cooking demonstrations" and classes for passengers. In January, Norwegian will host its annual Walker Stalker Cruise (currently sold out), featuring 10 stars from AMC's The Walking Dead. And next January and February, the Disney Fantasy will host a Star Wars Day at Sea.

Author and travel expert Mark Murphy said themed cruises like these "put a face on the brand and create a personal relationship" with fans. And while a tropical cruise exposes a celebrity or company to fewer consumers than mass forms of marketing, it works because of what Murphy calls the selfie effect—"You take 3,000 passengers and each of them is sharing photos with 400 to 500 friends, and suddenly you're in the millions."

Derway adds that celebrities—even those at the peak of their fame, like Gronk—need to consider marketing tactics that will give them personal interactions with fans because that's what fans have come to expect. Famous athletes and performers "have discovered that if you don't actually make some sort of connection with your biggest fans, they'll forget you," she said. "If you're a brand, you have to do something that touches someone's life. You have to do something people will talk about and tweet about. That's the only way to do it these days."

The idea for Gronk's Party Ship actually originated with the Gronkowski family, which has enjoyed plenty of exposure from the Gronk Party Bus, a 25-passenger leasable coach stuffed with Gronk merchandise. (The Twitter account for the bus has attracted 10,900 followers.) Gronk's Party Ship basically takes that idea, multiplies it 100 times and sends it out into the ocean.

Of the Gronkowski family talent for having a good time, Gordie Jr. has previously said that "we make sure we party rock the whole time." On this cruise, they'll be able to do that literally: Red Foo of LMFAO—which brought us "Party Rock Anthem" in 2011—will be among the musical guests.

@UpperEastRob robert.klara@adweek.com Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.