Cam Newton will almost certainly be named MVP. He was the first team all pro selection at QB. The Carolina Panthers are 17-1, and will now be in the Super Bowl. He is at the pinnacle right now.
He is, however, still outside the Top 20 of best-selling NFL player merchandise, according to NFL Players, Inc.
Meanwhile, his Panthers teammate, linebacker Luke Kuechly, has moved ahead of him at #18 on the NFLPA list. According to a Dick’s Sporting Goods report, Kuechly shot all the way up to 4th in their merchandise sales (Newton is 19th in that one). As the Panthers have surged to a great season, it has been Kuechly (who very well could be named Defensive Player of the Year) who has surged in popularity.
So? Luke Kuechly is a great player. Linebackers are football players too. True, but merchandise sales in our fantasy football-driven market show that consumers much prefer offensive players, particularly QBs. Forty-one of 50 of this year’s top-selling jerseys are offensive players; 18 of those are quarterbacks. So twice as many quarterbacks appear in the top 50 as defensive players.
The only teams with a defensive player appearing in the Top 50, who is ranked ahead of his quarterback in merchandise sales, are: (1) Houston with J.J. Watt over whatever the Texans have at QB, (2) Cleveland with Joe Haden over Manziel, who plummeted understandably after being Top 10, (3) the New York Jets, with the return of Darrelle Revis, and (4) the Carolina Panthers.
Merchandise sales are an interesting barometer of popularity. They are–usually–a significant investment, so it’s not just someone voting anonymously in a poll. Jerseys can cost upwards of $100. Most people don’t buy a large number of them within a single year. Market size matters, as we see certain teams tend to put numerous players near the top. Saturation of the market versus newness matters. We see some players, rookies and free agent signings, surge in popularity as people clamor to get the new guy, only to fall back.
Newton’s jersey haven’t oversaturated the market relative to other top QBs, who tend to remain in the top 10 in sales. Last year, Newton was 24th, not much different than the current placement. Two years ago, Newton was 27th, and the 13th-ranked QB.
In his latest piece, Jason Whitlock wrote:
"The clickbait whores of the blogosphere and the social justice warriors of journalism desperately want to frame Cam Newton as the modern-day Jackie Robinson, a heroic breaker of the color barrier whose excellence and dignity expose America’s deep-seated bigotry."
"It’s an exceptionally tempting narrative. The problem is, Cam Newton is more Magic Johnson than Jackie Robinson and America, by and large, adores Newton far more than it abhors him. "
I don’t think Newton is Jackie Robinson, a comparison that would be crazy. But while adoration can be a vague term, I don’t think Newton is adored as other elite quarterbacks, either, judging by whether people have invested in buying his jersey and wearing it.
Does race play some role? I mean, we aren’t a color-blind society, so probably some, but that’s overly simplistic to say that is the prime factor. Russell Wilson has been #1 over the last three years. Robert Griffin III shattered the sales record during his mercurial rookie season, before crashing to earth. Teddy Bridgewater, from a market more similar in size to Carolina, is right behind Newton in the rankings, and he is far less accomplished in the NFL.
Or for a racial counter-example, Ben Roethlisberger is a star quarterback for one of the most popular NFL franchises. While Brady, Rodgers, Manning and Brees tend to always be in the Top 10, Roethlisberger was 38th this year, behind Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell on his own team. Big Ben was 38th last year as well, and 26th two years ago. Relative to his performance, Roethlisberger is another quarterback who lags in jersey sales. Of course, Roethlisberger had allegations of sexual assault against him in the past, and was suspended by the league. But something–perhaps that–is affecting his popularity relatively to his elite quarterback peers.
What is it with Newton? For any number of reasons, I think the celebration and dances does rub some the wrong way. This is not something that the blogosphere. How sizable is that minority? I don’t think it’s a fringe group. It would be relatively unheard of for a MVP and Super Bowl QB to be outside the Top 10 in popularity as measured by jersey sales. We’ll see if the Newton bandwagon picks up to close out this season. So far, we haven’t seen a surge in Newton’s popularity despite the on-field performances.