Back in 1972, Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield helped turn the Miami Dolphins into a national brand by etching a perfect record. Aqua-colored jerseys sold briskly among kids, Random House quickly published a book about Csonka and Kiick — and once the World Football League arrived in 1974, its newly born teams tossed piles of cash at Dolphin stars.
There was money to be made back then, to be sure. But the New England Patriots are set to capitalize on their already-in-the-books 16-0 season and a possible 19-0 mark in ways that the No-Name Defense could only dream about.
Start with the players. This time last year, wide receiver Randy Moss was radioactive, as marketable as Pacman Jones. Only a few years removed from a national-TV fanny wipe on a Green Bay goalpost that shocked fans, Moss was a going nowhere on and off the field. Today? He quietly set a league record for touchdown receptions in a season (23) and should easily land endorsement offers worth hundreds of thousands of dollars if he departs Glendale, Ariz., with a Super Bowl ring.
Though not a record-setter like his teammate, wide receiver Wes Welker should also attract national interest.
"He combines good looks, a team-first attitude and a gritty playing style that has already endeared him to several local companies in the greater Boston area,” said Shawn McBride, vice president of Ketchum Sports Marketing. “Performing on the national postseason stage will amplify his opportunities.”
Quarterback Tom Brady, who already makes millions of dollars a year in endorsements, is poised to make a run at Peyton Manning as the king of NFL endorsers. He finished the regular season with an NFL-record 50 touchdown passes. His jersey sales in 2007 jumped more than 50 percent above 2006 levels — imagine what they would be if he leads New England to the best record in NFL history?
Team merchandise is also popular. According to Bloomberg, sales of Patriots gear at NFLShop.com more than doubled in 2007 compared to the previous year (which won't fully benefit the franchise, since the 32 teams share that revenue). But the Patriots know that 16-0 means nothing unless they win the Super Bowl, as the ‘72 Dolphins did. If they win in February, expect an onslaught of jerseys, jackets, snowman globes, socks and the rest that tout the NFL’s first 19-0 season — and they will be bought up as quickly in the Boston area as Red Sox gear after their World Series wins in 2004 and 2007.
There’s more. “The potential for increased ticket prices, increased sponsorship rates and the possible addition of new sponsors to their portfolio are three ways the Patriots can drive revenue following a perfect season,” McBride noted.
Increased ticket prices may be the only way to hike revenue in that area. The Patriots sold out all 68,756 seats for each home game at Gillette Stadium this year, with an average ticket price exceeding $90, and boast a season-ticket waiting list exceeding 50,000.
Fans will also pack the stadium for their playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars this Saturday. If the Pats win, expect another massive crowd at the AFC Conference Championship game the following week. But the sellouts, which will continue for years even if the team stumbles, now have an additional advantage: They boost traffic at Patriot Place, a shopping complex near Gillette Stadium that just started to open stores on land Kraft bought more than 20 years ago.
Corporate sponsors already affixed at the stadium, from Bank of America to McDonald’s, are in heaven. McBride pointed out that Bank of America has recently begun offering consumers an exclusive suite of Patriots Banking products (branded checks, credit cards and debit cards). No doubt the Patriots will be in a strong position to dictate prices when deals end and can attract more sponsors with ease if they desire.
Television? The Patriots have arguably gotten more attention (also known as free publicity) this year than any team in NFL history, boosting their brand. But the networks and the leagues have also benefited.
The Pats’ Dec. 3 game against the lowly Baltimore Ravens on ESPN was the top-rated NFL cable game of 2007, and its 17.5 million viewers was ESPN's biggest audience ever. Not only that, the franchise has given the stumbling NFL Network a jolt: According to Mediaweek, the cable channel was able to sell some 30-second spots for the Patriots-Giants game Dec. 29 for $200,000 — more than double the usual price.
Because of their success, the Patriots prompted the first NFL triple simulcast in league history, with CBS, NBC and the NFL Network airing the team’s 16th win in that Dec. 29 battle. New England has helped the NFL brand become even more popular.
The biggest impact of an unheard-of 19-0 mark may be on the worth of the franchise. Already having skyrocketed to more than $1.2 billion, according to Forbes, from the $172 million Robert Kraft paid for the team in 1994, it is sure to jump again and may even surpass Washington, the second most valuable franchise in the league. (With a new stadium set to open in 2009, No. 1 Dallas may be untouchable).
How will the architect of perfection, Bill Belichick, cash in? Reviled and fined $500,000 for Spygate at the start of the year, the hooded coach isn’t the type to care about endorsements. But when he’s retired and reflecting on the stunning run, he will still draw interest from marketers – after all, septuagenarian Don Shula, coach of the 17-0 Dolphins, is going strong touting Nutrisystem and its weight-loss system in TV commercials.