CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Cam Newton was wearing a black Under Armour shirt as emergency medical workers tended to him on the sidewalk. Not far away, police officers were removing a Belk garment bag and Beats by Dre headphones from Newton's truck, which had rolled after being struck by another vehicle.
Off to the side was the ambulance that would take the Carolina Panthers quarterback to Carolinas Medical Center, for which Newton is a spokesperson.
For all anybody knows, Newton was wearing a splash of his signature Drakkar Essence scent from L'Oreal. The only things missing from his growing endorsement portfolio, it seemed, were a container of Dannon Oikos Triple Zero yogurt, a bottle of Gatorade and an EA Sports video game.
Pictures from the scene of the Dec. 9 crash -- Newton wasn't seriously injured and missed just one Panthers game -- didn't go unnoticed by sponsors and marketers.
"That's one marketing promotion I will not take credit for," Carlos Fleming, the vice president of talent management for IMG, which represents Newton, said with a laugh.
While Newton, 26, is easily is the most visible athlete in Charlotte, he also has a strong national presence, especially on the marketing front. And he has an even stronger national presence after signing a new five-year, $103.8 million deal Tuesday with the Panthers.
Fleming says his client's national portfolio is the strongest of anybody in the NFL outside of Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
Paired with his new deal with the Panthers, which pays him just over $20 million per season, Newton's endorsement income should reach eight figures in 2015. He should become the highest-paid NFL player not named Manning.
This despite the fact that Newton, the top pick in the 2011 draft, isn't widely considered among the top 10 players at his position -- he fell to No. 16 in QBR in 2014 after finishing No. 13 in 2013 -- and hasn't played in a Super Bowl.
Newton recently said "nobody has ever been who I'm trying to be'' as a quarterback, referring to his unique size (6-foot-5, 250 pounds) and talent at his position. He also transcends from a marketing standpoint in that he's not a top-tier quarterback, but he endorses like one. Marketers, like many fans, appear to have bought into Newton's "Superman" persona, and the Panthers also have never had a player with Newton's commercial appeal.
Newton's path in the marketing realm in some ways parallels that of LeBron James, the first pick of the 2003 NBA draft. James, also uniquely big (6-8, 250 pounds) for someone who spends significant time handling the ball and playing on the perimeter, reportedly had a seven-year, $90 million endorsement from Nike before signing his first deal with Cleveland. He didn't win his first NBA title until 2012.
The big difference? It was evident early on that James was one of the best at his position. He ultimately became the NBA's marquee player, winning the MVP four times before turning 30.
"Brands lined up behind LeBron, but it took him time to win a title," Fleming said. "They recognized the uniqueness he is. Cam is the same way in that he came into the league with a lot of fanfare. Whether he will become one of the greatest, we don't know. But brands recognize the uniqueness."
According to Forbes, Manning was the NFL's top pitchman in 2014 with $12 million in endorsements from companies such as Papa John's Pizza, Nationwide Insurance and Gatorade. Fellow quarterbacks Drew Brees ($11 million), Aaron Rodgers ($7.5 million), Eli Manning ($7.5 million) and Tom Brady ($7 million) also had notable endorsement income.
Forbes listed Newton's total from endorsements from 2014 as not available. But according to an industry source, Newton will approach $11 million in endorsements in 2015 and Brees' number should drop because of the nature of some of his deals, which include sharing the spotlight with other celebrities. Among the reasons for Newton's surge, sales for his signature Under Armour C1N Highlight cleats doubled this year.
"While he may not have the track record of Peyton Manning when it comes to his portfolio, in the short amount of time he's been in the league, he's built a list that is better than the majority of his peers," said Courtney M. Brunious, the associate director of the University of Southern California's Sports Business Institute.
The 2011 deal Newton landed with Under Armour surpassed the league record for a rookie, reportedly topping the $1 million per year Reggie Bush got with Adidas in 2006. Earlier this year, Newton replaced actor John Stamos as the national spokesperson for Oikos. Most recently, IMG reached a development deal with Nickelodeon in which Newton will be executive producer for a children's television concept.
In September, Newton was rated the most attractive NFL player by Vogue. He also has appeared in Women's Wear Magazine, Glamour and Vanity Fair. "For the rest of the world it looks like it kind of happened all of a sudden," Fleming said. "But this is something we've been building slowly since his rookie year."
Picking their spots
Fleming and Newton have been selective. The idea isn't to oversaturate the market or take on obligations that will take Newton's focus from football.
Newton told WWM that teammates give him a lot of "grief for things that I do," but in a fun way.
"Every time you see me on a magazine, I can guarantee it that someone's going to tape it to my locker," he said. "It's just something that they do to bring a lighthearted approach to a stressful workplace."
That Newton has helped the Panthers reach the playoffs the past two seasons after going 13-19 during his first two has helped increase his profile.
"When he wins, we tend to turn the volume up," said Omar Johnson, the EVP of global marketing for Beats. "We celebrate winners. We love competition, but at the end of the day winners are what we focus on."
Winning -- especially playoff games -- is what it will take for Newton to take the next step, both as an NFL quarterback and product spokesperson.
Matt Delzell is managing director of the Celebrity Marketing Arm, a firm that, among other things, measures celebrities' marketing worth with what it calls the Davie Brown Index. Delzell said the numbers still indicate Newton is far from the level of Manning and Brady. He's particularly lagging in terms of trust and appeal, according to DBI numbers.
"Certainly not a guy from a quantitative standpoint we would be recommending to clients most of the time," Delzell said. "Not very likable. Not very trustworthy. There are concerns across the board."
IMG uses the DBI, but Fleming said trust and likability don't often come up as issues in discussions with companies about Newton.
"You look at the Bradys, Rodgers, and those guys have won Super Bowls. They have been around for a long time," Fleming said. "It's easy for fans to kind of follow them and trust them and perceive them as being consistent performers on the field.
"When you look at the trendsetter, likability, some of those factors, you see Cam start to rate a little higher."
The looks of a star
Numbers aside, Newton has many of the attributes companies look for in a representative. He has an infectious smile and Hollywood looks. He's engaging, a far cry from the player who was criticized for his demeanor during his first two NFL seasons. He can be chivalrous, evident in a video that went viral, showing Newton carrying a woman across a muddy track at the Preakness Stakes. "I was standing right there,'' Fleming said. "He did it without hesitation. That was just him being a Southern gentleman, but it probably helped him from a PR perspective.''
Newton is also a proven communicator and has offered suggestions to make the products he represents better.
"His personality and charisma resonates with both consumers and companies," Brunious said. "While his tantalizing ability hasn't fully manifested itself on the field, his persona has kept him at the forefront when endorsement opportunities arise.
"His appeal also provides companies an opportunity to align their brand image with a young and exciting performer."
Under Armour spokesperson Adam Peake agreed.
"First and foremost it's about how you perform on the field and your ability," he said. "But it's the type of person you are and the personality that I think shines through with Cam that is second to none in many cases."
Those traits were more important to L'Oreal than wins when it came to making Newton the first athlete to represent one of its products since NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. launched a campaign in 2002.
"His striking Superman victory poses became a great angle for us to build a social media campaign around," L'Oreal spokesperson Rosemarie Sterling said.
"When you go to make advertising that is appealing to a broad audience, it really is about having appeal with both men and women," said Michael Neuwirth, the head of public relations at Dannon. "You can't apologize for being attractive in life."
Not everybody was concerned with Newton's checkered college career. He was charged with stealing a laptop from another student while at Florida, and there were accusations that Newton's father sought money for his son to attend Mississippi State.
Newton went on to lead Auburn to the 2010 national championship and win the Heisman Trophy before Carolina made him the top pick of the 2011 draft.
Johnson said Newton's resilience made him more attractive to Beats.
"Everybody knows where he's been, but not everybody knows how lonely it was, how much responsibility he personally felt he had to take on at those different places at those different times," he said. "He persevered."
Newton went on to break Peyton Manning's NFL rookie record for passing yards with 4,051 -- since surpassed by Andrew Luck -- and was named the Associated Press' Offensive Rookie of the Year, even though the Panthers were 6-10.
"His early success, and just as importantly the exposure he received from his Under Armour endorsement, provided him a cushion that other athletes may not have had," Brunious said. "Getting over that initial hump buys an athlete more time than they otherwise would have in the minds of consumers and even companies."
But for Newton to take his personal brand to the next level, he has to win.
"He's a trailblazer in a lot of ways, and that's intrigued a lot of brands that are activating around sports," Fleming said. "They are looking for people who are different and bring a unique spark to the game.
"But people aren't going to totally commit to someone until they've won a couple of Super Bowls and kept that level for an extended period of time."