Trevor Lawrence in NYC vs. Jacksonville: 'Millions of dollars difference in terms of endorsement potential'
Whenever a hopeful draft asks whether a visit to a particular team would increase its support potential, NFL agent Molly McManimie always answers the same way.
McManimie says it's one factor, just not the biggest.
The position of a player is the most important. Mediocre starting quarterbacks are often more recognizable to fans and more appealing to companies than some of the NFL's leading linemen.
It is also crucial how well a player plays on the field, as well as his star quality and charisma. The best pitch men deliver punchlines just as smoothly as passes.
Somewhere behind all that glamorous team has to play in a big market. While Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers play in Siberia and could still be sought-after endorsers, most of the players benefit from the large television audience and proximity to companies and major media.
"There are more opportunities in New York or Los Angeles because there are more businesses, more media and more people," said McManimie, agent at Caric Sports Management in Las Vegas. "That is a definite advantage, but no matter what, your position and your game must deserve to do this kind of business."
Trevor Lawrence, who after beating Notre Dame in the ACC championship game, admits fans as he leaves the field, is expected to be the first choice in the 2021 NFL draft. (Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images)
McManimie's assessment offers a glimpse of what was at stake for announced Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence on Sunday as the previously winless New York Jets stunned the heavily favored Los Angeles Rams. Not only may the Jets have lost the chance to select Lawrence in next year's NFL draft, but they may have damaged the putative No. 1 overall winner's hopes of maximizing his support potential.
Though Jacksonville and the Jets have identical 1-13 records, a weaker schedule strength gives the small market Jaguars the edge in the NFL's race to the bottom. Jacksonville only needs to lose its last two games of the season against Chicago and Indianapolis to finish at # 1 overall.
With all of the ridiculous talk that Lawrence would be returning to Clemson for his senior year so as not to play for the Star Crossed Jets, sports industry experts say New York is indeed an endorsement point of view. All eyes would be on Lawrence if he went to the biggest market in the country and revived a franchise that hasn't been in the playoffs in a decade and hasn't made the Super Bowl since Joe Namath in 1969.
The same sports shop experts say Lawrence would have to perform even better to get similar grant money in Jacksonville. While there is no state income tax in Florida, the jaguars neither play in one of the 40 largest media markets in the country, nor do they dominate their metropolitan area to the same extent as their small market counterparts Buffalo, New Orleans and Green Bay.
"In general, I think the market isn't that important, but in this case it's such a big dichotomy between the two spots," said Bob Dorfman, executive director of San Francisco's Baker Street Advertising. "Obviously New York is the largest media market in the US, if not the world, and it would act as a savior." You're probably talking about a million dollar difference in advertising potential. "
It's evidence of Lawrence's amazing talent, distinct long-haired looks, and personable sense of humor that companies might be willing to rely on him before he proves himself in the NFL. Describing Lawrence as "one of the hottest goods out of college in years," Dorfman says the quarterback's marketing clout dwarfs other current No. 1 picks.
Lawrence, a record-breaking passerby who led his Georgia high school to a 52-2 record and two state championships, came to Clemson in 2018 with considerable hype. The ballyhooed five-star recruit overtook Kelly Bryant as Clemson's starter in four games in his first season and quickly became one of college football's top quarterbacks.
In 2018, Lawrence started as the first true freshman quarterback in 33 years for the national champions, destroying Alabama in the title game. He has performed 88 touchdowns and 16 interceptions at Clemson and the Tigers are back in the national title fight this season.
Lawrence now has a following of 634,000 on Instagram and 137,000 on Twitter, more than any current Jets or Jaguars quarterback. He used his platform to express himself on issues that were important to him this year. He launched a GoFundMe to help people affected by COVID-19 in March, spoke out against racial injustice in May, and led a movement to empower college football players in September.
The social media Lawrence has built will make him more appealing to companies regardless of which NFL team lands him.
“More and more brands are focusing less on how big the market is and more on how big the following is social,” said Eric Boyd, a professor of marketing at UCF. "Sponsors are eager to keep track if they are an existing brand or to raise awareness if they are a new brand. Eyeballs will be very important to sponsors whether on TV or on social media."
Even so, even in a social media world, the New York market has advantages over Jacksonville. Think of the widespread fame Mark Sanchez gained after four modestly successful seasons as the Jets' starting quarterback from 2009 to 2012.
He was the presenter at the Tony Awards. He supported Nike and Pepsi. He landed a modeling spread in GQ Magazine. Now, a few years away from his playing days, he is still in the public eye as an ESPN analyst and contestant for Fox's "The Masked Singer".
"A quarterback can have opportunities anywhere, but New York clearly opens more doors than Jacksonville," said Mark Conrad, director of sports business programs at Fordham University.
Does a quarterback have to play in a large market to get referrals? Of course not. Look no further than Mahomes, Rodgers, or Peyton Manning for evidence.
Can a quarterback play in a big market and still receive minimal marketing love? Certainly. Advertisers these days aren't exactly opening the doors to partnering with Sam Darnold (New York Jets), Jared Goff (L.A. Rams), or Mitchell Trubisky (Chicago Bears).
Ultimately, sports industry experts say that playing for a high-profile team in a big city like New York and Los Angeles can make a top athlete even more alert.
There are more national television games. There are more businesses nearby. There are more big media. There are even more opportunities for organic marketing when a gamer goes to a fancy club or restaurant, or attends a party or a movie opening.
"When you're Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City, companies are going to make it work," said McManimie. "But if you're Trevor Lawrence and you're just trying to get a foothold in your freshman year, New York will make you more desirable."
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