Seahawks, past and present, mastering the art of self-branding
There are endorsement deals – Bose, Nike, Gatorade, Beacon Plumbing – and then there’s creating leverage to sell yourself as a brand. While the Seahawks’ stars are adept at landing both local and national commercial deals, the team as a whole might be even better at fostering the entrepreneurial spirit needed for players to build the latter.
Major examples of enterprising Seahawks have sprouted up in 2016, with the Beast Mode Store opening in Oakland over Super Bowl weekend, and more recently, Russell Wilson launching his Good Man Brand clothing line. Seattle’s most preeminent names are not alone in the self-branding department. According to Seattle native John Bronson, CEO of the Pro Athlete Chamber of Commerce, the Seahawks have built a culture for this type of growth that is not typical in the NFL.
“There is a separation (between the Seahawks and other teams),” said Bronson, who starred at Kent-Meridian High school before playing at Penn State and spending two seasons as a tight end for the Cardinals. “I don’t believe that there is this cookie-cutter formula that every team is abiding by. I believe the different teams have their different spin; obviously, the coaches have a lot to do with it, as well as the ownership. Right now, the Seahawks are one of the teams that are really grasping the brand of the team as well as embracing the players and families of the teams themselves. And that’s something to be very commended for.”
The Phoneix-based PACC is not directly affiliated with any NFL teams. It is a player-based organization focused on transitioning athletes from sports to the “real world,” Bronson said, aligning athletes with leaders in the business community, for a number of things, including marketing and branding.
Bronson saw the Seahawks organization firsthand while his brother, Demitrius Bronson, played on the practice squad in 2014. With advice from his brother and teammates, Demitrius decided against buying a coffee shop and instead focused on copywriting a slogan: “Compete or Don’t Eat,” and its acronym, CODE, to use for potential merchandise branding and creating offseason football camps.
John Bronson believes Seahawks officials have excelled at building an environment where athletes can develop and expand their own brands.
“It’s something that’s important, it’s something that carries you to the next level when the lights go out,” he said. “And a team like the Seahawks, within their doors they get it, they understand it. This is a not-for-long league; your brand is basically as good as you make it within your playing days, but you can increase that brand and have it on a much larger basis outside of the game. And I think they are doing a good job of helping players identify avenues that can help expand their brand beyond their time here on the football field.”
John Bronson called it an “addictive feeling” when an athlete does something positive for himself or the community, and that the attitude is fostered inside the CenturyLink Field walls.
“The good thing about a locker room feel is that it doesn’t take a lot, either good or bad – in this case good – to spread,” he said. “So if a few people are doing good things, and obviously it’s working, the likelihood of five or 10 more guys doing the exact same thing, or something in the ballpark, is very likely. And I think that’s something that is a positive for Seattle. You’re getting a lot of guys as teammates how to leverage each other, leverage their brand, to support each other or companies.”
Seahawks officials were not available to comment on this story, but it appears Seattle’s business culture starts at the top. There’s former Seahawks owner John Nordstrom, who still attends some practices, as well as current owner Paul Allen and let-them-be-who-they-are head coach Pete Carroll.
“I remember being at practices and how inclusive it felt, and it’s something I hadn’t experienced with any other practices, or even teams I’d personally been on,” he said. “Inclusive for the family aspect, for the brand themselves – it made you want to be there and made you want to be a part. Which ultimately helps the whole brand – that Seahawks feel.”
Beyond Lynch and Wilson, cornerback Richard Sherman sells “You Mad Bro?” shirts, hats, wristbands and headbands on the richardsherman25 website. Kam Chancellor, who, besides putting on exercise boot camps for women, established the Chancellor Clothing Company in 2014, where he sells a variety of apparel with various slogans, and utilizes his “Bam Bam” nickname.
Chancellor also established the Kam Cares Foundation, an educational nonprofit for children in underserved communities of his hometown in Virginia and in Seattle. It’s those types of ventures in the community that Bronson said Chancellor, as well as wide receiver Doug Baldwin and other Seahawks, have excelled.
“Baldwin’s aren’t taglines; I’m talking about him as a person,” Bronson said. “Branding himself in the community for more gain and I know that he’s leveraged a lot of partnership relationships with some gaming companies, Microsoft and games like that to help his brand.”
Meanwhile, Lynch has also built an entrepreneurial empire for both good and profit. While his Fam 1st Family Foundation continues its work for empowerment and education, Mitch Grosbach, Lynch’s business partner and president and CEO of M3/Fashion, LLC, called the Beast Mode store’s first week in Oakland “blockbuster.” He said sales were “beyond all of our expectations and projections” and that the strategy is to grow Beast Mode significantly over the next two to three years. That includes the possibility of a store in Seattle.
“We are using our Oakland flagship store to develop the ongoing format that we’ll apply to future store openings,” he said. “We do not have a set number of stores that we’re planning to open, but certainly are exploring markets that make sense, and Seattle is one of those markets for obvious reasons.”
Bronson said that while it’s often easier for big names like Lynch and Wilson to build their own brands than it is for the 53rd person on the roster, it’s not always a given. He said he’s seen scenarios where first-round draft picks have been out-branded by special team players.
“The difference: One person is available – they’re out there, they’re accessible, they’re personable,” he said. “In another corner, they’re not available, they’re not personable, they’re not accessible, but they have a bigger name.”