But marketing opportunities for the 24-year old second-year quarterback, who led the Ravens to an 11-5 record and became the only rookie in league history to win two playoff games, will increase in proportion to his success and profile, sports marketing experts say.
Another season like last year’s, when the Ravens got within a game of the Super Bowl, could propel Flacco’s flacking career to an even higher level.
“Joe Flacco has a wealth of opportunities in front of him,” said Ron Shapiro, a Baltimore-based attorney and sports agent who represented former Baltimore Orioles great Cal Ripken Jr. “One, he’s a quarterback, and quarterbacks get the lion’s share of what’s produced endorsement-wise in the NFL. Two, he’s a great story. Last year, it was ‘Joe who?’ ”
One of Flacco’s biggest deals so far has been to join Reebok’s roster of dozens of NFL athletes. As part of a three-year contract, Flacco wears Reebok head to toe and appears in TV commercials and at corporate and promotional events for the sports apparel giant. Reebok’s Fantasy Files campaign includes five television commercials featuring NFL athletes who play different positions.
Flacco, shown in the commercial hurling footballs at clay pigeons on a skeet shooting range, is the campaign’s quarterback.
“Joe was a high priority for us last year … the young, exciting quarterback with the strong, rocket arm,” said Kurt Evans, a marketing manager for the Massachusetts-based Reebok, who said prominent rookie quarterbacks can be highly sought after as endorsers. “We have some veteran quarterbacks and saw Joe as an exciting rookie quarterback that strengthens our roster in that position.”
Flacco’s endorsement dollars, which experts estimated to be in the low six figures, are small compared with those of some of his rivals. NFL quarterbacks who garner the big endorsement deals are typically Super Bowl winners such as the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady, the New York Giants’ Eli Manning or Brett Favre, now with the Minnesota Vikings, said Howe Burch, an executive vice president of Baltimore’s TBC Advertising and a former head of marketing for Reebok and Fila.
Brady, for example, rakes in $9 million in annual endorsements, Sports Illustrated has estimated.
But a winning season combined with Flacco’s wholesome image could give him new commercial prominence.
‘The all-American kid’
“Joe is the all-American kid,” Burch said. “There is a lot of potential, if you think about certain brands. You could remember the Campbell soup campaign with players and their moms. You could see him doing that. A traditional car company, a Ford or Chevrolet. That’s the guy he is. He’s not a Tom Brady and making guest appearances on ‘ Entourage,’ ” the flashy HBO show. “There are companies who would like to associate themselves with him if he takes himself to another level.”
Flacco’s agent, Joe Linta of JL Sports, said his strategy has been to focus on football and “let the rest take care of itself.”
“Joe’s not a guy that really focuses a lot on off-the-field stuff … but he realizes it’s part of the game to get involved in things like this,” Linta said. “He’s not a guy that covets being in the media and covets the Eli Manning stuff. It’s not something he seeks out.”
He describes the Flacco brand as standing for hard work and overcoming adversity.
“Joe Flacco is the person you want your son to grow up like,” Linta said. “He’s a great athlete, bright, polite and well-spoken.”
Growing national interest
National companies besides Reebok have begun to express interest in Flacco, said Seth Katz, who also handles endorsement deals for the quarterback through his Baltimore-based sports marketing firm AMG, Pro-Sports Inc.
“We receive dozens of inquiries a week, that range from appearances to autograph signings to local endorsements,” including TV commercials, radio commercials and print advertising, Katz said.
In the past two to three months, national corporations, among them car makers, electronics manufacturers, food service companies and restaurant chains have called with offers, he said.
“Joe finished his rookie season and obviously the team performed very, very well,” Katz said. “The team is important to the city of Baltimore and has established itself in the NFL, and Joe is beginning to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with as a quarterback in the NFL.”
When deciding what products he might pair with Flacco, Katz said he looks for family-friendly brands, “companies that understand the power of Joe’s name and Joe’s brand, yet understand the limitations on Joe’s time.”
Two that fit the bill were Pizza Hut of Maryland and JBA, a family-owned dealership in business since the 1950s.
‘Flacco Family Feast’
For Pizza Hut of Maryland, which runs 47 restaurants, Flacco has participated in television and radio spots and is appearing in print ads with the campaign built around Flacco’s favorite pizza. Some restaurants are offering the “Flacco Family Feast”: two medium pizzas, with one topping each; an order of Hershey’s Chocolate Dunkers and two liters of drinks for $20.99 plus tax. Employees answer the phone with the greeting, “Welcome to Pizza Hut, Joe Flacco’s favorite pizza.”
Joe Aiello, owner of the Glen Burnie-based Chevy dealership, has appeared for years in JBA’s TV ads himself and says he wasn’t looking to add another pitchman. But then, he said, Flacco bought a vehicle from him and one thing led to another.
“He’s a very nice young man,” Aiello said. “We were able to put a deal together where he did some commercials for us. We’ve never done this before, although we’ve sold cars to a number of athletes. But it turned out he was willing to do these commercials with me. He’s a good athlete, a great quarterback, and if we’re going to have somebody represent our organization, he’s perfect.”