Patrick Peterson walked around the dining room at Donovan’s Steak and Chop House in early June shaking hands and chatting up anyone and everyone.
It was the first “Celebs and Steaks” event for Peterson’s Foundation for Success, and Peterson looked like a seasoned vet. These events have become common for players with foundations. They, along with their teammates, serve dinner to a packed house of fans, supporters and socialites who donate to their respective foundation.
But what struck me was how Peterson looked as comfortable wearing a corporate uniform -- suit and tie -- as he does in his Arizona Cardinals No. 21. He covered as much ground that night as he does protecting the Cardinals’ secondary at University of Phoenix Stadium, smiling and keeping eye contact with everyone who wanted a moment with the three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro.
This is the norm for the 23-year-old Peterson.
While Peterson is a few weeks away from starting his fourth season in the NFL, he already has endorsement deals with Nike, Pepsi, Eastbay, Tide, T-Mobile, Express, GoPro, Mars candy company and GMC. He has long-term deals with Nike and Eastbay and some one-time agreements or social media hits. Regardless of the length of the deals, Peterson is becoming a face of national companies, whether it's wearing their shoes or appearing on billboards or in commercials. It's something he's always wanted to do.
“Watching Allen Iverson -- he’s even a Reebok guy -- watching Kobe Bryant when he was with adidas, watching those guys, I was like that’s something I want to do if I was able and fortunate enough to make it to the next level to have a strong company like one of those companies backing me up and saying this guy reps our company and he wears it with great pride and dignity,” Peterson said. “And once I actually figured out how the sponsorships work and how endorsements actually work, I said this is definitely something I can get acquainted with pretty quick.”
And he’s been able to do it from one of the smallest NFL markets, playing a position that isn’t highly marketed.
So how has Peterson been able to push his way into the national spotlight?
“That’s easy,” said Denise White, the CEO of EAG Sports Management, which handles some of Peterson’s public relations and marketing. “It’s his personality. He’s like a mom and apple pie guy. He doesn’t come with any drama. He’s a good-looking kid. Very intelligent. Very down to earth. Very old soul. So that’s attractive to advertisers. You want a good-looking guy who can speak well [to] hawk your product and whatever it may be, and he’s a good person.
“He’s a good guy. He knows what to do. He knows what’s right and what’s wrong. He’s not the guy that’s going to ever get in trouble or have any issues to where we have to be careful of that. And people generally enjoy him. He’s fun to be around. He’s nice. And more importantly, he’s a great athlete.”
Being a great athlete will only get Peterson so far. Had Arizona sneaked into the playoffs at 10-6 last season, Peterson likely would have had more eyes on him in the wild-card game than any of his previous NFL games, with the possible exception of “Monday Night Football” and a Thursday night game in 2012. More eyes means more exposure, which leads to increased popularity.
On the field, Peterson is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, if not the best. He is well-known to NFL insiders and fanatics. But when it comes to the general fan base, Peterson isn't yet a household name.
Part of that is Peterson plays for the Cardinals. Another part is his quiet personality. He's the opposite of Seattle’s Richard Sherman, who has landed national deals with Campbell’s and Microsoft, according to Forbes Magazine. Peterson isn’t drawing attention to himself -- a la Sherman -- which could be good and bad when it comes to landing endorsements.
Another one of Peterson’s battles to become a major endorser is the fact that he plays defense. It’s rare for a defensive player to get national ad campaigns and even tougher for them to become full-blown Madison Avenue darlings. There have been a couple of defensive stars who have come close recently, but both are now retired: Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher. Current Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews has endorsed Campbell’s Chunky Soup.
According to Forbes’ most recent list of the highest-paid athletes in the world, six of them were defensive football players. Of those, none made more than $800,000 (Darrelle Revis) in endorsements last year.
“At the end of the day, people are trying to get impressions,” said Alex Guerrero, president of Elite Sports Society, which handles some of Peterson’s marketing. “So how many times is the quarterback on TV? Every single play there’s a quarterback on TV, except for punts and kicks.”
For the Cardinals, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has become not just the face of the franchise but one of the faces of the NFL, earning endorsements along the way. He has been a spokesman for the University of Phoenix and has been plastered all over Nike’s football advertising, among others.
When a potential endorser looks at the Cardinals, it’s easy to see why Fitzgerald is their first choice. Peterson has used the opportunity to learn from Fitzgerald about how to land major deals and how to handle himself in the spotlight, White said.
While they’re both stars in their own right, Peterson and Fitzgerald attract different audiences because of their age, position and interests. Peterson is in his early 20s, while Fitzgerald is in his early 30s. Peterson loves cars, while Fitzgerald loves photography.
“I think people are just enamored as to what he is,” Guerrero said of Peterson. “His ceiling is huge. At the end of the day, his ceiling is so high because he can touch on every demographic. That hungry kid that wants to be a baller. That educated guy that’s going to go to Cal Berkeley or Penn State or Boston College, they’ll like him. Or the guy that wants to be able to say, ‘I made it from Florida and I left as a junior.’ That’s really what people are starting to notice, and that’s why his marketing is starting to explode.”
Said Peterson: “I think it’s cool. Just being a clean-cut guy. Just being me. Just being me every day. Chilling. Playing golf. Working out. Hanging out with my wife. That’s basically me. I’m just being Patrick Peterson, laid-back.”