By Matt Fleming, Director, TMA Entertainment
Every NFL season features heroics and heartbreaks that turn players into stars. TMA turned to the Celebrity DBI, our proprietary database for evaluating celebrities, to identify the five players who rank highest among consumers in appeal. The data comes from a broad survey in which each athlete/celebrity is evaluated by 1,000 consumers demographically balanced across the country.
Of course, appeal is just one component of overall marketability or effectiveness as a brand endorser. It reflects the talent’s likability and merchandising potential. So what do the most appealing players have in common? The top 3 have all won Walter Payton Awards. All 5 have managed to avoid controversy. Rookies, take note.
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been at the top of his position since he entered the league, and his story pulled at heart strings from the very beginning. Fitzgerald’s mother succumbed to breast cancer a year before he entered the draft, and though he has maintained his spot on the Cardinals roster since they drafted him in 2004, he also fulfilled her dying wish for him and completed his degree in 2016. Well respected and media savvy (a trait he picked up from his father, a sports writer), Fitzgerald had a period where he was landing deal after deal, including a placement on the cover of Madden in 2009 — the same year he made his first Super Bowl appearance.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees might be an underdog on the field because of his size, but he has a larger-than-life appeal. Leading the Saints to a Super Bowl win in 2010 was a rallying moment for New Orleans, a city still recovering from the physical and emotional damages Hurricane Katrina left behind. During his long career Brees has missed very little playing time, and is a well-documented family man, as displayed on a Sports Illustrated cover where he celebrates his Super Bowl win with his son. With a string of national media under his belt, he’s very visible and always well represented. Celebrated comedian and TV-host Ellen DeGeneres even has his jersey hung on the wall of her studio.
Not everyone finds J.J. Watt’s Captain America image endearing, but his work in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey endeared him to all. Extremely wholesome, his is the story of a Wisconsin walk-on that became a first-round draft pick. The Houston Texans Defensive End is a stud on the field, consistently adding prestige to the Watt family’s football legacy and garnering a ton of media attention and campaigns.
Linebacker and 2016 Super Bowl MVP Von Miller is a force, and his resonance extends beyond the football field. The Denver Broncos nominee for Man of The Year runs a foundation that provides eyewear to the needy. He was beloved during his time as a competitor on Dancing With The Stars, as well as during his appearances and work with Old Spice. Fun fact? He’s also a chicken farmer.
Only 22 percent of the general population are aware of Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen, but those who know, know his story. Currently one of the top receivers in the league, he came from little known Minnesota State to get signed to a practice squad and is now on a 4-year, $64M deal. We love an underdog story.
Jill Robben, Brad Griffiths, and Gary Treangen contributed to this story.