They have been thrust front and center the last two weeks because of game-ending controversy, a loss that helped end the referees lockout and a win that sent the New Orleans Saints back to The Big Easy winless. So even though they are nowhere near the well-oiled machine that they were in their 15-1 regular season last year at 2-2, the Green Bay Packers are still front and center in the minds of many NFL fans. However what is truly amazing is how many places the Packers players, from the smallest professional sports market in America, continue to pop up away from the gridiron in some of the biggest promotional campaigns in both broadcast and digital media.
First up you have quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who burst on the scene last year with his tongue in cheek State Farm campaign which has been expanded again this year, and he has now added a Pizza Hut national gig. The long haired linebacker Clay Matthews hit the screen for Gillette and their Fusion ProGlide razor, while All-Pro wide receiver Greg Jennings has pulled in national work with Coke Zero, Old Spice, and is even playing fantasy football with Bloomberg Sports as a spokesperson. Jennings even launched his own cocoa line this week for charity (with Milwaukee-based Omanhene Cocoa). Let’s not also forget veteran wide out Donald Driver and his appearance this summer on “Dancing With The Stars.” Those are not small market deals with water beds and cars that would have been golden in years past. They are multi-faceted, multi-layered national activation platforms that involve digital programs, the ability to have fun and also the opportunity to raise awareness for some causes in some cases (both Matthews and Jennings have charity ties to some of their deals). The sponsorships have local elements, most of the brands are also NFL partners, and in some cases there are other athletes also tied to the deals. However few teams have such a wide swath of national presence as the Packer trio as the season starts.
What does that say about life in Green Bay? “The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement provides the ability for small market teams to compete on equal footing with large market teams,” said Ed Horne, CEO of Madison Avenue Sports and Entertainment. “Given the success that the Packers have had on the field, and the media exposure they receive, consumers have become familiar with the organization and its players. That coupled with the great heritage of the Green Bay franchise, it is not surprising to see their high profile players catch the attention of the corporate community”
It also speaks volumes about the level of commitment brands have in the NFL and its players. If the Kansas City Royals for example, won the World Series, it is doubtful that brands who suddenly flock to their stars, unless there was a breakthrough superstar. Workmanlike All-Stars? No. However that is what has happened in Green Bay. Yes Jennings and Matthews are stars, but they are not of the uber-level as Rodgers, yet they are on the national scene. Brands are willing to take a shot at the matching personality as much as they are the big market, and the result is a high level of exposure for NFL athletes in varied markets that you usually don’t get in other sports. The Knicks can be sub-par, but there will always be a Madison Avenue calling for their individual stars. The San Antonio Spurs can star, but rarely would their stars get a national play. Are there some exceptions like Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City? Sure. However those are one-off’s and even with OKC’s success you don’t see James Harden or Michael Westbrook in over the top brand campaigns as well. Now maybe some is also personality. The athletes have to want to get the exposure and have to want to deliver. That is true. It is also true that there are many athletes in many markets that do want the exposure and may make the time, but they haven’t landed the national spotlight.
Maybe this big Packer play on America’s screens is an example of a perfect storm of personality and brand, an anomaly that might not play out again. Maybe it goes away if the team struggles more in the second quarter of the season. However for right now as NFL heads into week five, it would be hard for anyone to say from a recognition and partnership standpoint that the Packers and their players are not first out of the gate to engage in the sponsor space. Now they just have to back it up on the field again as well.