For many casual fans, sport today, like most of our world, is about the buzz, the bright lights, the big cities…action, action, action. Yet if you look at brands engaging in NFL activation as the season kicked off this week, you would be hard pressed not to see that the team in the smallest market, the Green Bay Packers, are all over the tube. Now the NFL is a bit different in terms of national and regional brand appeal, and the lore of the Packers as well as their recent success on the field makes their brand a bit of an anomaly in sport by market. However to see not just MVP Aaron Rodgers in campaigns but linebacker Clay Matthews, and receiver Greg Jennings (and lest not forget Donald Driver’s run on “Dancing with the Stars” for exposure sake as well), makes one step up and take notice about how engaging personalities looking to grow their persona, with the right representation in the right pairing, can transcend into the public eye regardless of where they play these days.
Rodgers burst on the scene last year with his tongue in cheek State Farm campaign, and this year added a Pizza Hut national gig. The long haired Matthews hit the screen for Gillette and their Fusion ProGlide razor, while Jennings has pulled in national work with Coke Zero, Old Spice and is even playing fantasy football with Bloomberg Sports as a spokesperson. 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 deals will naturally 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. (NOTE: I have worked with Jennings in helping him build his brand over the past year)
Now what does that say about life in Green Bay. Well first it speaks to the carefully cultivated Packer brand and its players, many of whom describe playing in Green Bay as unlike anything else. The organization leads from the top and brings in players that fit in with the Packer lifestyle. It is not flashy, it is about community and results, and the players deliver on both. For whatever controversy swirls around the NFL, it seems little ever ends up for long in Wisconsin. It is a brand that transcends the market.
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? Nah. 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 Milwaukee Bucks 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.
So maybe this big Packer play on Americas 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 out of the gate. However for right now as NFL heads to week two, 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.