There are eight rookies on the Chiefs’ active roster and seven on the Buccaneers as the two teams set to face off in this year’s Super Bowl. As long as they don’t completely blow it, those players could find Sunday’s showcase a crucial launching pad for their professional careers, particularly when it comes to maximizing off-field earnings. The opportunity extends far beyond a Lombardi Trophy: There’s tremendous marketing and branding power in such an appearance, especially for rookies on the winning team.
“The Super Bowl is a unique opportunity for these rookies because typically the guys that are rookies that make it to the Super Bowl are not the top five or top 10 picks that are already super marketable,” James Barry, Wasserman’s VP of talent marketing, said in a phone interview, alluding to players like 2020’s No. 1 pick Joe Burrow or Alabama darling Tua Tagovailoa.
To Barry’s point: NFL draft selection order is determined by the reverse order of finish in the previous season, meaning that the teams with the worst records get the earliest picks (barring any trades, of course). With the best rookies on the worst teams, it’s not often that a highly touted newcomer winds up playing for the title. For example, there has never been a rookie quarterback to start in the Super Bowl even though there have been numerous players at that position taken with the top overall pick or shortly thereafter.
Expected to start in this year’s Super Bowl are a handful of more underrated rookies, like Bucs starting safety Antoine Winfield Jr., a second round pick and son of the three-time Pro Bowler. Chiefs rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire was taken in the first round, but with the 32nd overall pick. Tampa Bay starter Tristan Wirfs, an offensive tackle, was taken with the 13th pick in the draft—a high first-rounder. While none of these Super Bowl contenders came out of the draft flush with endorsement deals, now they get the chance to elevate their exposure.
“A small percentage of players get the big deals, at all levels,” said Jenna Nobles, Octagon Football’s director of marketing and sales. “Those are who you’re constantly hearing about in the news…. For a guy like Tristan [Wirfs, represented by Octagon], who’s had a phenomenal year—the off-the-field stuff really does start on the field—making it to the Super Bowl does carry into marketing opportunities.”
While all of the rookies slated to take the field for Sunday’s big game were promising players, none became the face of a franchise upon entering the league. Now, agents for the aforementioned players are fielding an increasing number of calls from brands inquiring about their clients, companies planting seeds in anticipation of a potential win. Likewise, despite the reduced spending budgets many companies are dealing with, the players’ reps are starting to make outbound calls of their own too. There’s an expectation of opportunity on both sides of the board.
“Even if you’re really balling as a rookie, you’re not as familiar. You usually have a smaller or more local following, but you can take your brand to another level on a stage like the Super Bowl,” Barry continued. “Winning when a player is that young is so important because of where that success leads. During the regular season, most people are watching regional games, but with the playoffs and Super Bowl, everyone’s watching, [even] the people who normally only have the TV on in the background or who don’t really pay attention. You’re able to take your name to another level with that stuff, because those audiences are valuable.”
Barry uses the Jaguars’ Sidney Jones, drafted by the Eagles, as a case study: In the 24 hours following Philadelphia’s 2017 Super Bowl win, the then-rookie cornerback gained 150,000 followers on social media, a valuable commodity in today’s climate. From there, Jones “continued to take off and take advantage of all the opportunities that come from that.”
It’s not just the number of opportunities that increases. On top of the bonus check they’ll receive from the NFL (each player on the winning team will get $150,000; players on the losing team will get $75,000—not insignificant to a rookie on his first contract), a Super Bowl appearance monetizes itself in every future deal.
“With bigger sponsors, you can put bonus structures in a contract for starting in a Super Bowl, but also, when we go into contract negotiations for next year, that’s obviously going to be a part of the player’s bio,” Nobles explained. “We would absolutely structure deals around that, because it’s the biggest achievement you can get in this sport. There’s a monetary value to the title for sure.”
A Super Bowl champion tag can also increase the value of things like memorabilia, for example, which lasts a lifetime—and stays with a player for life. Current Buccaneers defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul won with the Giants in 2011, his second year in the league, and he has carried that tag with him for the last decade, despite not appearing in another postseason game before this year. “Everywhere he went, he was a Super Bowl champion,” Barry said. “His name grew and grew and grew….” (and grew even more after a viral fireworks incident a few years later).
“Being a Super Bowl champion, the longevity of what you’re able to do is huge,” Barry said.