Best Sports Business Athlete: Tom Brady
When Tom Brady signed a two-year, $50 million deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in March 2020, it set off a seismic shift throughout the worlds of both football and sports business. Fans piled onto ticket waiting lists, merchandise flew off the shelves and bookmakers furiously reset Super Bowl odds.
It seemed impossible that Brady could ever live up to the fanfare surrounding his arrival in Florida after a legendary two-decade run in New England. But the quarterbacking GOAT has made a habit of disappointing his doubters, and in 2021 he did it again. Not only did he cement his status as the greatest player in NFL history by leading the Buccaneers to their second Super Bowl title in franchise history — in their home stadium and against presumptive heir-to-the-throne Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs, no less — he also built upon his business empire in a way that proves he is just as unstoppable off the field as he is on it.
It is that impact, more so than his admittedly dominant on-field performance, that makes Brady our choice as the Best Sports Business Athlete of the year.
In April, the NFL Players Association announced that Brady led the league in licensed product sales for the 2020-21 season, his record fourth time doing so. Brady also broke Fanatics’ record for single-season jersey sales and, following his Super Bowl victory, broke the e-commerce giant’s high-water mark for single-day memorabilia sales for an athlete in any sport. Fanatics, which signed on as Brady’s exclusive memorabilia distributor late last year, sold Buccaneers gear in more than 120 countries.
Brady has also turned the Buccaneers into a ratings giant. Since the start of 2021, Brady has appeared in nine of the 31 most-watched telecasts in the United States, more than any other team and a number that might have once made Walter Cronkite blush. The Buccaneers’ playoff run accounted for three of the year’s five most-watched TV events, and Brady’s Week 4 return to New England gave NBC a Sunday Night Football audience of 28 million, the second-most watched game of the regular season to date and the No. 10 audience for any telecast in 2021.
With Bucs fans allowed back at Raymond James Stadium this season to watch their new captain, it was little surprise that the team sold out its season tickets by June after years of languishing near the bottom of the NFL’s attendance rankings.
Ads airing during a game that Brady is playing in generate 15% more engagement per viewer versus non-Brady games according to television advertising data firm EDO; by comparison, LeBron James has a 12% impact, per EDO’s data. According to Kevin Krim, EDO’s president and CEO, Brady ranks among a select few athletes, like James and Serena Williams, when it comes to elevating an advertiser’s reach. “Not only are more people watching [games with Brady], but on a per-person basis, people are more engaged with the games and in the ad breaks,” said Krim. “You also see that when Tom Brady is in the ad, those ads do really well. So there’s a nested effect; he is a star and it matters.”
Fantastic for Fanatics
In October 2020, Fanatics signed on as the exclusive distributor of Tom Brady memorabilia and collectibles. The resulting impact on Fanatics’ business has been tremendous:
■ Prior to winning Super Bowl LV, Brady was Fanatics’ best-selling NFL player ever for the two weeks between the conference championship weekend and the Super Bowl.
■ After Tampa Bay’s 31-9 win over Kansas City, Fanatics sold more Brady merchandise within three hours than it had for any player ever within 24 hours of winning the Super Bowl.
■ The Buccaneers jumped from No. 28 among NFL teams in total merchandise sales to No. 1 between 2019 and 2020. The 1,200% jump in sales was the biggest-ever year-over-year increase for an NFL team.
■ To date, Brady has Fanatics’ top-selling NFL jersey since the start of the current season. — C.S.
Brady’s a star in new media too: His 17 million followers on social media are the second-most for any NFL player after Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., and earlier this year the NFLPA and Opendorse, its social media activation partner, ranked Brady as the NFL’s most influential player on social platforms.
This year he graced the cover of “Madden NFL 22” alongside Mahomes, his second time being featured on the video game. Brady’s autographed rookie card sold for over $3.1 million in June, marking the highest price ever paid for a football card sold at auction. In fact, copies of that 2000 Playoff Contenders card have set record auction prices three times this year.
Brady’s frequency of deals and the humor he shows in his ads, his public appearances or on social media may come as a surprise to those who knew him only as the face of an efficient if not particularly joyous operation in New England. But it has also his off-field representatives at WME to capitalize on his success in new ways. The results have been staggering: In September, Forbes ranked Brady No. 1 among all NFL players in off-field earnings for 2021 at $45 million, more than double that of Mahomes, the next-closest player.
At 44, Brady is still impossibly good: He leads the NFL in passing attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns, and Tampa Bay has a massive lead in the NFC South. Yet even the ageless wonder can’t play forever — neither he nor his career-long agent Don Yee of agency Yee & Dubin Sports have hinted at when his last game will be — and as Brady nears the end of his career under center, he’s made moves off the field that should elevate his fame and his bank account for years to come.
Earlier this year, for instance, Brady co-founded NFT platform Autograph, which sells digital collectibles featuring and “signed” by famous celebrities. Athletes on the platform include Brady, Simone Biles, Wayne Gretzky, Tony Hawk, Derek Jeter, Naomi Osaka and Tiger Woods. The company’s advisory board features the founders of DraftKings, Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino and Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Dodgers owner Peter Guber.
Brady and his wife, model and philanthropist Gisele Bundchen, were also recently at the center of a high-profile ad campaign for cryptocurrency exchange FTX. As part of that deal, Brady is a brand ambassador for and took an equity stake in the company. That’s in addition to new endorsement deals with Hertz and Subway, the latter of which effectively plays off his well-known diet restrictions.
Brady added Hertz to his robust roster of endorsements.getty images
“Tom Brady 1.0 was all football, all the time. Tom Brady 2.0 became football and family,” said filmmaker Gotham Chopra, who co-founded production company Religion of Sports with Brady and former NFL star Michael Strahan. “And now Tom Brady 3.0 is like ‘Let’s make businesses!’ While he’s surrounded by really interesting, smart people, he’ll be the first to tell you he’s learning.”
Among the offerings from Religion of Sports, which launched in 2017 and last year raised $13 million in funding, is the ongoing “Man in the Arena” series, a 10-part Brady epic for ESPN+ that chronicles each of his Super Bowl appearances. Brady was previously featured in the company’s “Tom vs. Time” Facebook Watch series, which won the 2019 Sports Emmy for best serialized documentary.
That’s just one of the many initiatives Brady the businessman has launched throughout the sports and media landscape. His 199 Productions is credited on “Man in the Arena” and, along with Turner Sports, produced both of this year’s editions of “The Match” celebrity golf series. He launched and co-hosts a weekly SiriusXM podcast, “Let’s Go! With Tom Brady, Larry Fitzgerald and Jim Gray.” TB12, Brady’s fitness and nutrition business, has been setting up brick-and-mortar locations throughout the country. And a new Brady clothing line co-founded and led by fashion mogul Jens Grede is expected to debut in January and just signed 10 collegiate athletes to NIL deals.
All the while Brady keeps rewriting the NFL record book. Most touchdowns ever? Check. Most passing yards ever? Check. Most completions ever? You get the idea.
Of course, there is one record Brady is obsessed with adding to: his own mark for most Super Bowl titles. By now, it’s clear: When Tom Brady makes it his business to do something, he usually succeeds.