Sunday's National Football Conference championship game hadn't started yet, but on the field the Cam Newton show already was rolling.
As usual, the Carolina Panthers quarterback had found a way to enliven pregame warm-ups, displaying the names of his teammates in blue lettering across his striking, new Under Armour football cleats.
The ascendant NFL star is known for such flair. His talent on the field and easy embrace of showmanship have made him an invaluable ambassador for Under Armour, the Baltimore-based athletic apparel and footwear brand. And his value to the company is about to skyrocket as the Panthers, who defeated the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, prepare for Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7.
It seems an apt match — the nation's most-hyped sporting event and a quarterback who thrives on attention.
Newton's appearance represents another huge marketing opportunity for Under Armour, following the MVP seasons of baseball star Bryce Harper and basketball star Stephen Curry, and the memorable early success in the career of world No. 1 golfer Jordan Spieth.
"They've got the hottest NFLer in Cam Newton, hottest NBAer in Steph Curry, hottest MLBer in Bryce Harper, and hottest golfer in Jordan Spieth," said Bob Dorfman, executive creative director of Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco. "Super Bowl 50 will be Newton's coming out party to the largest broadcast audience of the year, maybe even ever — showing off his passing, running and dabbing to a new legion of fans.
"True, Nike still dwarfs Under Armour in terms of revenue and share of market," Dorfman continued, "but the momentum is clearly with Under Armour."
And it almost was even better for Under Armour. The brand almost had two of its best-known endorsers in the Super Bowl. But quarterback Tom Brady's New England Patriots couldn't unlock the Denver Broncos's defense and lost the AFC title game. The veteran Brady is 38 years old and Newton is 26.
Analysts say Newton's relatively young age makes him particularly valuable to Under Armour because he is regarded as a peer of consumers in their athletic prime. Plus, he is likely to have a long future in the NFL.
Under Armour did not respond to requests for comment on whether it was making special Super Bowl plans around Newton's appearance.
"Newton is still very much a new face for the NFL, and that bodes well for Under Armour and its younger demographic," said T.J. Brightman, president of A. Bright Idea, a public relations and marketing firm with offices in Bel Air and Sonoma, Calif.
Curry is 27, Harper is 23 and Spieth is 22.
"Under Armour's ability to eye talent before they truly break through, I think, is one of their best skills," said Matt Saler, director of sports marketing for Baltimore advertising and marketing firm IMRE.
Under Armour announced Monday that it has added to its endorsement roster by signing actor and former professional wrestler Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. The muscle-bound action hero will collaborate with the company on "a range of products across footwear, apparel and accessories," as well as its Connected Fitness initiatives. Plans are afoot for movie tie-in products as well.
Under Armour signed Newton to his shoe and apparel deal in 2011 when he turned pro. Before games, he routinely wears Under Armour football cleats highlighting pet causes such as breast cancer awareness (pink) and military service (camouflage). He once wore gold shoes to mark an anniversary of his 2010 Heisman Trophy.
When the game is about to start, he switches to shoes in the team's colors. He's also become known for handing the ball to young fans in the stands after touchdowns.
"At the end of the day, it looks like he's having fun out there," Saler said. "He's young and he's the guy at the center of the NFL right now. It's almost in a sense like the torch is passing to him."
Newton is expected to be a top candidate for the league MVP award to be announced Feb. 6.
Newton's Celebrity DBI — an index that measures public awareness and impressions of endorsers — has soared this season, according to The Marketing Arm in Dallas.
Seventy-two percent of consumers like him "to some degree," the company said, which puts him alongside mixed martial-arts athlete Ronda Rousey, golfer Rory McIlroy and singer Gwen Stefani.
"Winning helps everything," said Matt Delzell, managing director of The Marketing Arm's talent practice. "There have been no off-the-field issues with him. The worst thing you can say about him is he celebrates in the end zone. He's pretty funny, he's got the looks. He's kind of the whole package right now."
And he's about to encounter the media to a degree he hasn't before.
"He's got 24 hours-a-day coverage for the next two weeks," Delzell said. "Under Armour loves that."