9 NFL Stars Who Performed For Brands in 2021 & How To Find More in 2022

June 10, 2022

-Shane Mercer

Sponsoring athletes and paying for endorsements is a no-brainer for brands looking to build connections with sports fans.  But some athletes are better influencers than others, and picking the right ones to partner with can be a challenge for even the most seasoned marketing professionals.  We looked at some of the top performers from last season.   

Tom Brady

Main Brand Partnerships: Brady Brand, Under Armour, FTX

It’s no surprise the legendary NFL quarterback, widely regarded as the greatest of all time, is one of the top performers for his brand partners.  He has the second highest gross following (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok combined) in the NFL, with more than 19M followers.  In 2021 he posted branded content on social media 58 times and five of those posts cracked the top 50 for the entire year, and one of them was the very best, coming in as the number one post with 503,000 likes.  That was a Brady Brand post, so it’s clear the 43-year-old knows a thing or two about marketing.  He also ranks fourth for total engagement with nearly 2.5M acts of engagement.  If there’s one knock against the GOAT, it’s that he isn’t even in the top 50 for engagement rate, with less than two percent, but that can be attributed to his extremely high social following.

Patrick Mahomes

Main Brand Partnerships: Adidas, Bose, CommunityAmerica Credit, Coors Light

He definitely doesn’t have the kind of history behind him as Tom Brady, but Patrick Mahomes may be one of the brightest and fastest rising super stars in the NFL.  He already has a Super Bowl ring and is one the main reasons the Kansas City Chiefs are perennial contenders.  His gross social following stands at more than 8M, which ranks 7th in the league.  But Mahomes created the most acts of engagement with more than 4M, and he ranks third in engagement per post.  His high social following means his engagement rate is at about just 3 percent, 45th in the league.  Mahomes claimed 11 of the top 50 posts, more than any other player, and four of those posts were for Adidas. There’s a brand that won.  

Russel Wilson

Main Brand Partnerships: Good Man Brand, Nike, Bose

No surprise we have another quarterback among the best brand performers in 2021. The former Seattle Seahawk turned Denver Bronco ranks third in gross social follow with more than 13M followers.  He’s also third for total engagement with more than 2.8M likes, shares, and comments.  But Wilson is number one when it comes to brand partnerships with 29 and he is the distant front runner for the most branded posts with 134.  To put that in perspective, LA Chargers running back Austin Ekeler was second with 65.

Tyreek Hill

Main Brand Partnerships: Grip Boost, Soul Runner 

The former Kansas City Chief, now Miami Dolphin, wide receiver ranks number one in per post engagement with 131K.  He has the 13th highest social following in the league with a gross following of nearly 4.2M.  He ranks 5th for total engagement with 2.1M and even with that large following, he still placed 10th for engagement percentage with a rate of 9.47%. Hill proves he can be elite on and off the field.

Antonio Brown

Main Brand Partnerships: Fashion Nova, Pepsi

Antonio Brown is also an elite wide receiver who often makes headlines for his off-field antics.  When it comes to brand partnerships, he’s not fooling around.  With a gross following of nearly 10.4M he has the seventh highest following in the league.  He ranked 9th for total engagement with 1.4M interactions. And when it comes to engagement per post, he takes second place with an average of 108K interactions per post.  

Ceedee Lamb

Main Brand Partnerships: AMIRI, Rhude, Nike, BodyArmor

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Ceedee Lamb just wrapped up his second season in the league and since he’s still early in his career he currently ranks 47th in the league for audience with 1.3M total followers.  But he performs well above his weight, coming in 6th for total engagement with 1.6M brand interactions. He’s also 6th in per post engagement with 60.7K interactions every time he posts branded content.  He has the 4th highest engagement rate with 13.61% and ranks 24th for activity with 27 posts and works with 18 different brands, the 11th most in the league.

Travis Etienne Jr. 

Main Brand Partnerships: House of Athlete, Union Home Mortgage

Here’s another newcomer who is performing much better than expected.  Travis Etienne Jr. was a rookie running back, but didn’t even see the field the entire season because of an injury.  He technically hasn’t even played an NFL game.  But he has the number one engagement rate in the league with 27.85%.  While he doesn’t come close to cracking the top 50 in terms of gross social following (less than 300K) he does make the cut for total engagement with 214K interactions.  He’s able to get an average of 21.5K interactions per post, good enough for 28th in the league.

Austin Ekeler

Main Brand Partnerships: SteelSeries, Gridiron Gaming Group

Another running back made the cut.  Austin Ekeler also doesn’t have an enormous following, but as mentioned earlier, he posted branded content 65 times during the 2021 season, second only to Russel Wilson.  He works with 21 brands, the fifth highest in the league and cracked the top 50 for per post engagement with 7,666 interactions.  That puts him in the top 20 for engagement rate with 6.29%.  

Rob Gronkowski

Main Brand Partnerships: Voyager Digital, Hims & Hers Health Inc

Gronk has a huge audience.  It’s the 5th largest in the league with a gross following of 11.3M.  He worked with 23 brands, also fifth most in the league, and he ranks third for the most number of posts with 63.  He got himself into the 18th spot for total engagement with 735K interactions, and placed 45th for engagement per post with an average of 11,677.  Similar to long-time teammate Tom Brady, the only negative with Gronk is that he has an engagement rate of less than 2% and doesn’t crack the top 50. 

Honorable Mentions

Zenith Watches was the number one brand in terms of per post engagement with its NFL athlete partners.  It saw an average of 88,271 interactions per post and a lot of that can be attributed to Green Bay Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who landed the number 3 top post sporting a Zenith Watch that garnered 438K likes.  Rodgers also helped land Cash App, Bose, and Taylor Made in the top 50 posts.  

How To Work With Football Players 

If you’re interested in working with athletes, including NFL stars, MILLIONS.co can pair your brand with the perfect athlete partner. A MILLIONS WatchParty is a great way to reach sports fans during a hyper-engaged experience.  Athletes invite their fans into their living rooms and turn the camera on themselves while watching a sporting event. Fans can chat and interact with the athlete and get their takes on the big game.  US Mobile sponsored 13 watch parties hosted by football players for the Super Bowl and it delivered 6.3M impressions and increased brand affinity by 85% among attendees.  You can read more about those results here.

Source: SponsorUnited NFL SPRED Report 

In 2021, 9 NFL stars performed for various brands, including Nike, Adidas, Pepsi, and Gatorade. These performances ranged from appearing in commercials and print ads to participating in sponsored events and collaborations with the brands. These NFL stars stood out as successful brand performers due to their popularity, charisma, and ability to connect with consumers. There are no specific upcoming deals or performances announced for these NFL stars in 2022, but it is likely that they will continue to partner with different brands to promote their products and services.