With his arm leading Dallas to its fastest start ever, Tony Romo is being watched closely – not only by NFL defensive coordinators, but also by companies in need of a fresh marketing face.
In the NFL, where players who forge sterling college careers at big-name schools often are the ones to make the most marketing impact, it is rare to see a rise like Romo's. Unloved on draft day in 2003, he was anonymous as recently as the beginning of last season. The future of the Eastern Illinois graduate promised little more than a six-figure paycheck as a backup QB until he retired in his mid-30s.
But since he became the Cowboys starting quarterback in the seventh week of the 2006 season, Romo has even been able to wrestle the spotlight away from the once-untouchable publicity hog of them all, teammate Terrell Owens. Fans nationwide love Romo; his top-selling No. 9 jersey is proof of that (Owens’ jersey does not even rank in the top 10 of NFL player sales). This season alone, Romo’s been featured in a “This Is SportsCenter” spot for ESPN and a Diet Pepsi Max commercial, as well as print ads for AT&T.
What is his appeal? Romo’s amiable personality is the key, says Bill Glenn, vice president of strategic insights and analytics at The Marketing Arm in Dallas.
"Tony Romo is very likable, first and foremost," he said. "He smiles when he's on the field. He has taken what is arguably one of the most high-pressured positions in all of sports (quarterback of the Cowboys) and maintained his humility. He's playing the 'aw, shucks' role."
His appeal has attracted celebrity women. That appeal has, in turn, boosted his visibility. Entertainment stars such as Jessica Simpson and Carrie Underwood have been associated with Romo, 27. He even served as a judge in the Miss Universe pageant.
On Thursday, Romo's visibility will get a jolt. What looked like a meaningless game at the outset of the season is now the NFC's version of a New England-Indianapolis battle – the Cowboys play host to the one-loss Green Bay Packers, led by veteran quarterback Brett Favre, 38.
Favre, who was Romo's idol as a kid, is tough to beat during games – as well as outside the stadium. According to the Davie Brown Index, which determines a celebrity’s ability to influence brand affinity and consumer purchases, Favreis still much better known nationally than Romo, which isn't surprising given the length and success of his career. The Green Bay gunslinger is recognized by nearly half of U.S. consumers, more than twice as many as Romo.
Yet the Dallas QB scores on the same level with other major sports and entertainment names, including Shaquille O'Neal, Roger Clemens, Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld, who have all been in the public eye more than a decade longer than Romo. A breakout game against Favre would do wonders for Romo’s marketability, even if the football audience is more limited than usual. (The game is being broadcast by the NFL Network, which is struggling to gain a foothold on cable providers).
For the Cowboys and owner Jerry Jones, how Romo’s smile plays in the rest of the country means little; how he plays in the Dallas metropolitan area is paramount. The franchise is building a $1 billion stadium in Arlington set to open in 2009. To spur sales of luxury-suite leases and to persuade fans to pay for personal-seat licenses that run as high as $50,000, they need a captivating long-term face of the franchise. Jones believes Romo is his man, as the $67.5 million, six-year contract extension he handed to the quarterback attests.
This year, Romo is guiding the Cowboys to a certain playoff berth. Though they haven’t won a postseason contest since 1996, expect that to change in January (especially since Romo no longer handles the pedestrian kick-holding duties that knocked Dallas out of the playoffs last season). And a Super Bowl appearance? His “aw, shucks” role, played before 90 million television spectators, may translate into true national stardom.
Last, but not least …
Black Friday was a buyers’ delight in most of the United States – but not for those looking to purchase Packers-Cowboys tickets.
On Stubhub.com, dozens of seats were priced above $1,000, and a pair of seats on the 50-yard line was being hawked for $30,000 (gold parking pass included). Prospective buyers of that pair may be better off dedicating the cash to a personal-seat license at the new stadium.