Joe Flacco is Super Bowl MVP, but can he bring in super dollars?
By JUSTIN GEORGE AND AARON WILSON and The Baltimore Sun
Feb 04, 2013 | 11:10 PM
Joe Flacco woke up groggy Monday after partying late into the night, hanging out with Jay-Z and Beyonce as he celebrated the game of his career.
Early in the day, the Ravens quarterback received keys to a 2014 Corvette Stingray, the prize for being named the Super Bowl's most valuable player. Then he boarded a plane for Walt Disney World, where he sat next to Mickey Mouse in a red convertible as the car paraded down the Magic Kingdom's Main Street.
For a day, at least, Flacco was America's "it" guy, jet-setting from New Orleans to Florida and, finally, to New York for an appearance on the "Late Show with David Letterman." At 6 foot 6, with dark hair, a square jaw and a "Joe Cool" reputation earned by almost perfect playoff performances, he seems destined for a big payday in the NFL and in endorsements.
Six endorsement proposals had flooded in before noon, according to his marketing agent, Tom Kleine, as well as invitations to attend award ceremonies and appear on magazine covers.
"You get the ESPY invite," Kleine said of the sports award show as he sat near his client on a plane. "You get the Vanity Fairs, the Oscar invite."
It was quite a lot for a small-college quarterback to comprehend.
"No, it hasn't sunk in yet," said Flacco — whose new contract with the Ravens is likely to be worth at least $15 million per year. "It's just a surreal moment, and hopefully in about a week we can wind down and start to enjoy it a little bit."
Flacco addressed his contract situation Monday night on Letterman's show. Asked what Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti had said to him before the Super Bowl, Flacco said: "I only talked to him a little bit before this game, but before the New England game, he just came up to me and said, 'Listen, this is our time, and go get 'em. We have all the faith in you, and this is going to be your team for a long time.'
"Earlier in the year when I wasn't signing what they wanted me to sign, he said, 'Listen, when the time comes, I mean, you come and beat on my desk,' and I said, 'All right, I'll take you up on that,' and I think the time has come."
But the national spotlight doesn't mean Flacco is guaranteed a lifetime of endorsement checks.
He's made some recent ill-advised public comments. Some say he needs to shake the perception that he is dull as he competes for endorsements with many charismatic NFL quarterbacks. He also plays in a league that despite its popularity has come under fire because of concussion risks, and he is coming into his own at a time when sponsors are less likely to take risks on individual athletes.
But Kleine said Flacco isn't worried. He's never been one to seek endorsements, and he believes he will be paid what he's worth on the football field. For now, others can speculate on his worth while he enjoys being a champion.
"We want him to experience the moment right now for what it is," Kleine said.
For his work on the field, there is little doubt Flacco will be paid a top NFL salary worth tens of millions of dollars. Flacco's rookie contract expired Sunday, and he'll play for the Baltimore Ravens either as their franchise player, at a cost of $14.6 million, or receive the long-term deal he's been seeking.
"It's hard to argue that Joe's not the best guy out there now," Joe Linta, Flacco's contract agent, said.
While he waits, endorsement money is trickling in. Flacco struck a promotional deal before the Super Bowl with Haribo, the maker of the Gold-Bear gummi candies whose U.S. operations are based in Baltimore. The company heard about Flacco's affinity for Haribo's chewy candies, and TBC, the candy maker's Baltimore-based advertising agency, put the pair together.
"He likes our product and he is a likable guy, for a lack of a better description," Haribo America President Christian Jegen said. "He likes the product. He has a family image that fits us."
Flacco's current sponsors are making the most of his newfound national prominence. Baltimore-based First Mariner Bancorp featured the quarterback on its website Monday and posted a message: "We think it's safe to say, he's not your average Joe — perhaps your 'elite' Joe Flacco, or your Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco, but average, he is not."
While not average on the field, Flacco remains just that to advertisers, said Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing expert at San Francisco's Baker Street Advertising.
"He's certainly a safe pick," Dorfman said, referencing a story about Flacco's own father publicly calling him dull. "He's about as safe a pick as you can get who's not going to get in trouble, and is pretty white bread and does not have any scandals and is unlikely to have any scandals."
Flacco will be very marketable on the local level, Dorfman said, but he's facing much stiffer competition nationally.
There are the model-style looks of New England quarterback Tom Brady and the comedic and acting chops of Denver signal caller Peyton Manning. Then there's a slew of young run-and-gun quarterbacks such as Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton and Flacco's Super Bowl opponent, Colin Kaepernick.
"He's a good-looking guy but nothing, again, terribly flashy that makes him stand out," Dorfman said.
In a soft economy, he said, advertisers do not want to take risks with individual athletes vulnerable to falls from grace. Stars like Lance Armstrong are coming clean about cheating, for instance, and one-time college inspirational story Manti Te'o is trying to explain a bizarre hoax.
Flacco, too, has bruised his own reputation recently by using the word "retarded" during a news conference and getting caught on TV cursing during Sunday's Super Bowl celebration, but Dorfman said the slip-ups shouldn't have much of an effect on his marketability.
Former Oriole catcher and coach Rick Dempsey knows a bit about saying the wrong thing.
In 2007, as an Orioles pregame and postgame show host, he made a comment about domestic violence during a segment in which a player's wife was trying to raise awareness and money for battered women. Dempsey, who said he was trying to make a joke, apologized after the controversy went national. Over the years, he said, he learned from his mistake.
"It's something you learn," Dempsey said. "When you're in front of the public, everyone's going to make some mistakes. But you have to be very cautious of the fact that not everyone thinks the way you do."
Dempsey, the 1983 World Series MVP, can relate to being in a peak marketing position like Flacco, and he has some advice for the quarterback: "Be as accommodating as possible is the best advice I could give him because his playing days will be over before he knows it."
While Kleine, Flacco's marketing agent, is adamant that his client isn't looking to grab the spotlight, Dempsey said that's exactly what he should do.
Accept every charity engagement. Sign every kid's autograph. Be personable with reporters.
"Now is what you have to do to lay the foundation for when your playing days are over. Now is when people find out you're personable," he said. "Every night I signed every freaking autograph until everyone was gone in the parking lot. I never drove through the crowd without signing autographs. That one little guy who wanted my autograph? I couldn't turn my back on him."
Those "little people," he said, grow up to become CEOs, developers and elected officials.
"Those are the same people who are bringing their grandchildren to the ballpark now and are asking me to do speaking engagements for their companies."
Dempsey, 63, has turned to a second career that includes ownership of two restaurants, broadcasting and analyst jobs, an online tie sales and design company, and real estate ventures. Dempsey said he is studying to get his real estate license to work on development projects with partners he met through public relations engagements.
For Flacco, he said, this is the time to strike.
"He's been to the finish line now," Dempsey said. "He's been an MVP. This is going to be with him for the rest of his life. Don't turn your back on people."
Orlando Sentinel reporter Shannon Owens contributed to this article.