In early 2012, the NFL announced that it was looking for a new official uniform provider, and many big-name companies immediately dove into the bidding wars. By April 1, it was announced that Nike had won the right to replace Reebok as the exclusive on-field supplier for uniforms and sideline apparel for all of the NFL's thirty-two teams.
The move seems to have mutually benefitted Nike and the NFL. The league's Senior Vice President of Consumer Products reported that retail sales of jerseys on NFLSHOP.com had increased significantly since the switch. Nike's Morgan Shaw, meanwhile, shared that the partnership was one of the many contributing factors to Nike's North American revenue growing 13% to $2.4 billion for the fourth quarter of 2012.
Without a doubt, sports jerseys are big business. They're one of the most visible ways fans display their admiration for their favorite athletes. And predictably, it's the more popular and successful sportsmen whose jerseys become bestsellers. In fact, six of the ten best-selling NFL jerseys from April 1 to September 30, 2013 were jerseys of athletes who are also among the ten most-liked NFL players of 2013 based on surveys conducted by E-Poll Market Research.
Is there a relationship between the popularity of a player's jersey and the contract that the player can command? Perhaps taking a look at the salaries of the NFL players with the best-selling jerseys, as listed by NFL.com, can provide an answer.
10 Drew Brees - New Orleans Saints - Salary: $17.4 million
The first pick in the second round of the 2001 NFL Draft, Drew Brees started his career with the San Diego Chargers where he played until 2005. After injuring his shoulder, Brees signed with the New Orleans Saints. There, he earned seven trips to the Pro Bowl and led the Saints to their first ever Super Bowl. Brees was also named Sports Illustrated 2010 Sportsman of the Year and the MVP for Super Bowl XLIV, which his team ended up winning.
62% of NFL fans surveyed in 2013 indicated that they liked Drew Brees a lot, making him the third most-liked player in the league.
9 J.J. Watt - Houston Texans - Salary: $3,064,772
In his third year in the NFL, J.J. Watt has already been selected as a captain for the 2013 Pro Bowl, his second time playing in the event. It all began for the defensive end when he was drafted eleventh overall by the Houston Texans in 2011 and was signed to a four-year contract worth $11,237,000, including a signing bonus of $6,672,000. That rookie year then saw Watt bringing the Texans to the franchise's first ever playoff appearance.
In his sophomore season, Watt continued his rise by breaking the Texans' franchise record for most sacks in a single season set by former teammate Mario Williams. He also finished the regular season with 81 tackles (69 solo), 20.5 sacks, 39 tackles for a loss, 4 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries and an impressive 16 passes defended -- supposedly a stat reserved for defensive backs. For that awesome season, J.J. was named the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
8 Aaron Rodgers - Green Bay Packers - Salary: $12 million
Aaron Rodgers is living proof that determination often leads to success. After backing up Brett Favre for the first three years of his NFL career, Rodgers finally became the Green Bay Packers' starting quarterback in 2008. That season, he led his team to a win Super Bowl XLV and was named Super Bowl MVP in that game. Aaron was also voted AP Athlete of the Year in 2011.
Currently, Rodgers is the only quarterback to have a regular season career passer rating of over 100.00. He also holds the league's lowest career pass interception percentage for quarterbacks during the regular season (1.7 percent) and the single-season passer rating record of 122.5.
Fans really seem to like players who display perseverance as they voted Rodgers their fourth most-liked NFL player in 2013.
7 Tom Brady - New England Patriots - Salary: $13.8 million
It isn't surprising that one of the top-selling jerseys in the league is owned by New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, one of the most accomplished players in the history of the NFL. In his eleven seasons as a starter, the Patriots have earned five trips to the Super Bowl of which they've won three (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX). In these visits, Brady was named Super Bowl MVP twice (XXXVI, XXXVIII). He has also played in the Pro Bowl nine times and has been named NFL MVP two times (2007, 2010). In fact, only Brady and Joe Montana have won the NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP multiple times in their career.
6 Ryan Tannehill - Miami Dolphins - Salary: $2,879,205
NFL sophomore Ryan Tannehill was picked eighth in the 2012 draft, making him the first quarterback selected by the Dolphins in the first round since Dan Marino in 1983. The Texas A&M alum was then promptly signed to a four-year contract for $12.684 million with an option for a fifth year.
Despite a rocky start to his NFL career, in his fourth week, Tannehill threw for 431 yards against the Arizona Cardinals, thus surpassing the franchise's single-game record for most passing yards by a rookie quarterback set by Marino in 1983. Furthermore, by the end of the season, Ryan found himself owning franchise rookie records for passing yards, attempts, and completions.
5 Robert Griffin III - Washington Redskins - Salary: $4,799,795
Robert Griffin III's jersey is historic in that it's the first uniform in the history of the "Big Four" professional sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA) to feature a name with a Roman numeral. After an NFL rule change, the sophomore quarterback of the Washington Redskins was allowed to have "Griffin III" printed on the back of his uniform. However, that's certainly not the only reason why Griffin's jersey has been selling so well.
Griffin was picked second overall in the 2012 NFL Draft after setting or tying multiple college records, being named 2011 AP College Football Player of the Year and winning the 2011 Heisman Trophy. That pick proved to be a good one for the Redskins when Griffin became the youngest player in the NFL's history (22 years, 284 days) to achieve a perfect passer rating in a game. That was among the many reasons Griffin went on to be named 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year. Unfortunately, he injured a previously hurt knee near the end of that season and had to undergo surgery to repair both his LCL and ACL. That setback caused Griffin to miss the 2013 Pro Bowl for which he was selected.
Griffin was ready for the 2013 season opener, and perhaps for his determination, was chosen the seventh most-liked NFL player in 2013.
4 Adrian Peterson - Minnesota Vikings - Salary: $13.9 million
In 2013, the second most-liked player in the league was a running back dubbed "Purple Jesus" for seeming like a savior to the purple-wearing Minnesota Vikings. That athlete is none other than Adrian Peterson, who in 2007, his very first pro season, set the NFL record for most rushing yards in a single game (296) and was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowl MVP. Five years after that, Peterson was awarded 2012 NFL MVP. "All Day" was also listed as the #1 player on the NFL Network's list of Top 100 Players of 2013.
3 Russell Wilson - Seattle Seahawks - Salary: $681,085
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is the lowest-paid player whose jersey is among the top ten bestsellers. It must be noted, however, that his modest salary is really just a consequence of the NFL sophomore not being very highly touted when he joined the 2012 draft. The 5-foot, 11-inch Wilson was picked a lowly 75th, causing IMG Madden Football Academy director Chris Weinke to observe, "If he was 6'5, he'd probably be the No. 1 pick in the draft."
Nevertheless, Wilson has more than exceeded expectations by earning the 2012 NFL Rookie of the Year Award and making the Pro Bowl for the two years he has been in the league. His good looks haven't hurt him either, earning Wilson high-profile endorsement deals with Levi's and Nike and landing his mug on the cover of ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated Kids. Furthermore, his charitable work, including his founding of the Russell Wilson Passing Academy, has certainly endeared him to fans who voted him the fifth most-liked NFL player in 2013.
With the Seahawks going to Super Bowl XLVIII, Russell Wilson's stock is sure to rise further.
2 Peyton Manning - Denver Broncos - Salary: $17.5 million
That Peyton Manning is high on this list should be expected. After all, he's used to being on top. In the 1998 NFL Draft, the Indianapolis Colts picked Manning first overall, and he repaid the deed by leading the Colts to victory in Super Bowl XLI and winning the AP NFL MVP four times (2003, 2004, 2008, 2009), a league record. Peyton was also named the NFL Player of the Decade for the 2000s by Fox Sports and Sports Illustrated.
Now playing with the Denver Broncos, the elder of the NFL's Manning brothers owns at least twenty other NFL records. He's likely to add to his achievements as he leads the Broncos to victory in Super Bowl XLVIII.
1 Colin Kaepernick - San Francisco 49ers - Salary: $1,397,532
In his third season as a pro, Colin Kaepernick owns the distinction of having the best-selling jersey in the NFL. With all the superstars in the league, the achievement says a lot about his drawing power. But what is it that makes the quarterback so popular? Sure, he's a great player. After all, he was able to lead the San Francisco 49ers all the way to Super Bowl XLVII. But there are other excellent players in the league who don't sell as many jerseys as Kaepernick does.
It must be his charisma. After all, anyone who can get California 12th District Representative and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to declare love for his "tattoos" and "big arms" is probably pretty likeable. And perhaps the bad boy exterior but deep spirituality appeals to many, too. Kaepernick is pretty vocal about his religion and was once quoted to have said,
My faith is the basis from where my game comes from. I’ve been very blessed to have the talent to play the game that I do and be successful at it.... When I step on the field, I always say a prayer, say I am thankful to be able to wake up that morning and go out there and try to glorify the Lord with what I do on the field. I think if you go out and try to do that, no matter what you do on the field, you can be happy about what you did.
Fittingly, many of Kaep's tattoos are religion-inspired. These include a scroll with the lines from Psalm 18:39 on it, plus another one featuring a cross draped with the words "Heaven Sent".
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