Can Cam Newton cash in as pitchman?

Cam Newton has some obstacles to overcome if he wants to be a top-tier NFL pitchman. AP Photo/Colin E. Braley

It’s not too late for Cam Newton to become a big marketing star, but he’ll need a little help from his friends -- or, in this case, his teammates.

“The main thing for Cam Newton when it comes to his marketability is, first and foremost, winning,” said Doug Shabelman, president of Burns Entertainment & Sports Marketing. “If they win and he does well, it’s going to come, and he will be back as one of the most-discussed and sought-after players in the league because his game is exciting, he has a winning smile and he has a good personality.”

In fact, Shabelman says Newton doesn’t have to necessarily post stellar numbers as long as the team is winning.

“Winning and being in the playoffs matters more than anything else," Shabelman said. "He could be doing average, and if his team is in the playoffs, people will still be talking about him because he’s the quarterback.”

Newton is in a good position to capitalize this season if the Panthers can post some wins. He is fairly well-known among sports fans and the general public, despite playing in a smaller market. Henry Schafer, executive vice president of The Q Scores Company, says 64 percent of sports fans are familiar with Newton, above the average of 59 percent for athletes. Among the general population, 34 percent of people know Newton, according to the latest poll released by The Q Scores Company in March. That’s also above average for an athlete.

However, Newton’s positive Q Score, a measure of how many people have a positive opinion of him, has fluctuated over the past couple of years. In the spring of 2011, just before he was drafted, Newton’s Q Score was an 11, below the average of 15 for athletes. At that time, his score was likely negatively impacted by the accusations regarding his recruitment at Auburn and Mississippi State.

Then Newton had an outstanding rookie season in 2011, setting an NFL season record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (14). He was also the first player in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards and rush for 500 yards one season. Newton capped off the year being named the AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Newton’s success on the field in 2011 had a positive impact on his Q Score, boosting it to from 11 to 15 in the spring of 2012. However, after a disappointing start to last season and the Panthers missing the playoffs, his Q Score was back down to 11 this spring.

Asked if an athlete’s Q Score is always so tied to his performance on the field, Schafer said, “Yes, unless something else dramatic happens in their life off the field, either positive or negative.”

Shabelman says even with a winning season, Newton is in an interesting position from a marketing perspective.

“He’s playing in Carolina," Shabelman said. "If they’re undefeated and they’re 12-0 going into the last five weeks of the season, that’s great, but they’re still in Carolina, and that’s not a major market. Sometimes people even forget there’s a team there.”

That being said, Shabelman thinks Newton might be charismatic enough to overcome his location.

“His style of game lends itself to him being a superstar endorser,” he said.

Newton got several deals early on, including Under Armour and Gatorade, the former reportedly worth $1 million-plus annually. At the beginning of last season, he added a local endorsement deal with Carolinas HealthCare System to do print, billboard, online and television advertisements. The NFL also used him last season in its “Play 60” public service campaign spots.

However, Newton isn’t simply sitting around waiting for companies to seek him out for their products; he’s creating some of his own opportunities. Recently, Newton unveiled his own clothing line, MADE Cam Newton. He’s the first athlete to partner with Charlotte-based department store Belk’s on an entire line. With more than 60 products, the MADE Cam Newton line ranges from casual clothing to suits with price tags from $28 to $500.