MKTG Insights: The Marketability of Rob Gronkowski
2002 gave us Tom Brady. 2010 gave us Aaron Rodgers and Clay Mathews. 2014 gave us Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman. There are few platforms in sport with the ability to give rise to an athlete's recognition and endorsement power quite like a Super Bowl Victory. Each and every NFL season, athletes from the Super Winning team emerge not just victorious, but with greater recognition than ever before, hoping to leverage their time in the national spotlight into marketing and endorsement relationships. In 2015, the world has been introduced to Rob Gronkowski, tight end for the New England Patriots.
For avid fans, Gronk has been a household name since being drafted in 2010. However, casual football fans have been given a heavy dose of the NFL star leading up to, and after the Patriots' Super Bowl win. Gronkowski has shown off his comedic side with Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O'Brien on Late Night TV, his family-oriented side on Daytime TV with Kelly & Michael, and carried the flag for Boston by dropping the puck in a ceremonious face-off prior to a Bruins game, an example of his clout within the local Boston marketplace.
Before consumers can be influenced by an athlete or celebrity endorser, they must be aware of them - a fact complicated in the world of football where athletes are masked by helmets. In order to become more than a name and number on a box score or Fantasy Football matchup, football players must engage in helmetless activities like media appearances and community events. Gronkowski has demonstrated his commitment to - and talent for - showcasing his personality in a way atypical for NFL players. In addition to his Super Bowl appearances, Gronkowski is set to appear in the upcoming "Entourage" movie. He has demonstrated an understanding for the importance of building an awareness base that, once achieved, can be translated into fan affinity and marketing promise. In a world where athletes so often resort to clichés, Gronk is unabashedly candid and outgoing. The "Gronk" brand boasts many of the qualities sought out in endorsers:
1. Elite performance: A proven talent as one of the league’s top Tight Ends. Gronkowski is a 3x Pro Bowler and in 2011 became the first at his position in NFL history to lead the league in receptions. In his first three seasons, Gronkowski had 38 receiving touchdowns in 43 games, while no other Tight End had more than 25. Further, Gronkowski was instrumental in the Patriots' Super Bowl run, catching touchdowns in every single playoff game.
2. Developmental Life Cycle: While Gronkowski has experienced a number of injuries throughout his career, at 25 years old, he is at his athletic peak. As long he plays alongside Tom Brady, Gronkowski is likely to be highly relevant on the field.
3. Strength as a Brand / Channel: Gronk is highly active on Social Media with a combined 2 million+ followers on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Gronk is also active in his community through operating his own foundation and youth football camp, providing sponsors with potential extensions to amplify their partnership.
4. Uncluttered sponsor roster: Gronkowski is selective in endorsement opportunities. Currently serves as a spokesperson for niche brands that he is personally invested in (SixStar Nutrition, SMS Audio) and Patriot sponsors Dunkin' Donuts and DraftKings, however, Gronk has never been leveraged in national campaign for a Tier-1 brand.
Risks and Considerations: Gronk's Party Image
For all of the promise Gronk holds as an endorser, there are those in the sponsorship community who still consider him a risk. Who consider his work-play hard lifestyle - and at times public drinking - a symbol of lapses in maturity/morality. For certain sponsors in certain categories with a more conservative marketing tone and brand personality, Gronkowski's style is unlikely to be a strategic fit. However, there is room in sponsorship marketing for the Gronkowskis of the world. While he does at times push the boundary, brands would and should happily accept his transgressions over the off-the-field drama that has plagued so many big names in recent year, particularly in the NFL. Off-the-field, Gronkowski is a media-savvy athlete who is entrenched in his community. He is also a 25-year old who parties. He is relatable - and authentic - and with that comes the ability to have tangible impact on consumers.
At the core of the Gronkowski brand is individuality and fun. And for those attributes, he represents more than football - just like corporate sponsors.
Gronk Watch 2015: Given the sponsorship community's projected increased interest in Gronk, MKTG highlights brands to watch for potential endorsement opportunities.