<
>

Cam Newton scores higher than Obama, Trump -- but is he the new face of the NFL?

play
Is Newton the new face of the NFL? (0:47)

David Newton breaks down why Cam Newton is well on his way to becoming the new face of the NFL and what he needs to do to keep that honor. (0:47)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Maybe it's time for Cam Newton to enter the presidential race.

If he were 35 instead of 26, the Carolina Panthers quarterback could become the first dabbin' commander in chief. He could set a new standard for Oval Office style if he wore those yellow, Barocco, zebra-print Versace pants he sported for his team's flight to Super Bowl 50.

If you look at the numbers, a Newton campaign is not as outlandish as you might think. Since the beginning of the season, his marketability metrics have skyrocketed as the Panthers (17-1) won games en route to Sunday's showdown with the Denver Broncos for the Lombardi Trophy.

"He actually has better influential scores, the ability to change people's perceptions, than Donald Trump, [President] Obama and Hillary Clinton," said Peter Laatz, the executive vice president of Repucom, a global sports and entertainment research and consulting company.

Repucom partners with The Marketing Arm on the Davie-Brown Index that measures the metrics of more than 3,800 athletes and celebrities. Newton has gone from No. 1,182 to No. 131 in the entire DBI database of influence. That puts him ahead of NBA star LeBron James, actors Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio, and singer Blake Shelton.

The U.S. population's awareness of who Newton is has gone from 38 percent in September to 52 percent in January. He still is not on par with New England's Tom Brady (88 percent as of this week) and Denver's Peyton Manning (85 percent), but the significant increase pushed Newton from 28th to ninth in the NFL.

"Cam, interestingly, has metrics as powerful as previous quarterbacks that actually have won the Super Bowl," Laatz said. "If he wins the Super Bowl, he'll land on the top spot in most of the metrics in the NFL."

One could argue Newton is becoming the face of the NFL. That Manning, who has set the standard in NFL marketing, will be the opposition Sunday at Levi's Stadium could represent a symbolic changing of the guard. According to Forbes, Manning is the NFL's top pitchman, with $12 million annually in endorsements from companies such as Papa John's Pizza, Nationwide Insurance and Gatorade.

Newton's annual endorsement total will be $11 million, with $1 million in bonuses for helping Carolina reach the Super Bowl, said Carlos Fleming, senior vice president of talent management for IMG, which represents Newton. Fleming maintained his stance from prior to the season that Newton's portfolio -- Gatorade, Under Armour, Dannon, Belk and Drakkar Essence -- is second only to Manning's.

"But we're never going to be in a situation where you turn on a TV and it's nonstop Cam Newton," Fleming said. "It's not what Cam wants or what our goals are."

Still, Fleming's phone has been ringing off the hook during Newton's breakout season. There will likely be even more calls after Newton is named league MVP on Saturday night in the NFL Honors show.

Fleming isn't surprised by Newton's meteoric rise in the metrics.

"I would have said the same thing his rookie year that I'm saying now," Fleming said. "Cam is the face of the new generation in the NFL, and it's not just about his personality."

Mark Anthony Green, GQ Magazine's Style Guy, said Newton's decision to wear the gaudy Versace pants on Sunday was a statement that the Super Bowl stage isn't too big for him.

Newton has been making statements all season, from dabbin' touchdown celebrations to postgame loafers that sparkle more than the New Year's Eve ball in New York City. He has become a trendsetter, and his DBI numbers reflect that.

Newton has gone from 19th to second in the NFL as a trendsetter, and he trails only Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. Newton's trendsetter scores are comparable to those of PGA superstars Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler. Newton has moved up 22 spots to 10th among NFL players in terms of trust. His overall attribute scores in the NFL have risen by an average of 21 spots.

Newton's appeal metric shows he also has become increasingly more likable since the season began. Data show that 72 percent of the population likes Newton to some degree. That ranks him with Ronda Rousey, Rory McIlroy and Gwen Stefani.

Newton's appeal can be seen in retail, as well. Sales of his gear and memorabilia topped the NFL in December, according to Fanatics, the largest online sports retailer in the nation. Manning reclaimed the top spot in January.

But Newton's most impressive jump was in influence. He went from 26th in the league to fourth behind Wilson, Manning and Aaron Rodgers.

"Cam Newton is one of those guys in a class all by himself, in terms of what he's been able to do, in terms of moving up the ranks, not only among NFL players but among general market celebrities," Laatz said. "Those metrics are more pronounced among a younger demographic, based on his style, his attitude, his giving footballs to kids in the end zone. He's been a fresh perspective."

Under Armour gave Newton, the first pick of the 2011 draft, a rookie deal that reportedly topped the record $1 million per year Reggie Bush got from Adidas in his first season five years earlier.

"We knew we wanted Cam because of what the guys had told us at Auburn," said Ryan Kuehl, vice president of marketing and sports sponsorships for Under Armour. "Everyone told us that not only could he play, which was apparent, but that he had a fun, magnetic personality."

Under Armour's return on Newton was seen immediately, thanks to the Highlight high-top cleats the brand pushed to market with Newton's backing. Before then, stores that sell football cleats never sold anything that resembled the best sellers in the basketball world. That's because speed was associated with a shoe that looked fast.

But Under Armour executives noticed that more speed players were looking for greater support -- the type offered by the Highlight -- as evidenced by the vast number of players taping up their shoes. Newton tried the style and was hooked. With his backing and visibility, kids who previously wanted faster and lighter shoes took to the Highlight cleats and made the shoe a best seller.

Since then, Under Armour has taken the cleats to new levels with specially designed cleats that Newton wears for warm-ups. He wore a pair with an image of him dabbin' for his team's Thanksgiving Day game at Dallas. He sported a pair with the names of all of his teammate for the NFC Championship Game.

In the summer of 2014, Dannon was looking to replace John Stamos with an NFL player who would attract a younger audience for the company's new Triple Zero yogurt.

"We were looking for a younger, up-and-coming, good-looking and fashionable player," said Art D'Elia, vice president of marketing for Dannon. "We saw what Cam had done with Gatorade and Play 60 and figured out that he checked all those boxes for us."

That the Panthers and their client became big success stories was a huge bonus when Dannon recently debuted a new spot with three Cam Newtons, filmed during the Panthers' off week.

"He's everything we thought he would be," D'Elia said. "He's doing what he's doing on the field, he flashes that million-dollar smile, and you can tell he still has the kid in him."

D'Elia said Dannon will do more with the quarterback, including integrating Newton's Nickelodeon kids series that will debut in 2016, because of this year's success.

"He's hitting all the right buttons," Laatz said.

Dabbin' became something of a national phenomenon after Newton introduced the Atlanta-born dance to the NFL during a game in Nashville against the Tennessee Titans.

Newton's willingness to show his personality on the field, particularly with his touchdown celebrations, has made a big impact on his connection to a younger market.

"You do see amongst some quarterbacks some kind of animation," Fleming said. "Cam has taken it to another level. He just enjoys playing the game, and he's having fun out there on the field. At first people didn't completely understand it. Now people see it's not malicious. He's doing the same things kids are doing in the sandlot when he's doing his touchdown dances."

The fact that Newton shows that NFL doesn't have to stand for "No Fun League," as some call it, could be good at a time when there is controversy over concussions.

"If you look at the concerns the NFL has around concussions and parents not being as optimistic or encouraging about their kids playing football, the NFL -- or the old guard -- needs a guy like Cam Newton that makes young people excited about playing the game," Fleming said. "It's the perfect time for a guy like him to come along."

Laatz agreed, though he hesitated to completely give Newton the keys to NFL.

"I have a 7-year-old daughter, and she thinks Cam Newton sings 'Hotline Bling,'" he said. "He's gotten to the point where he's gone off the field, and he's talking to a much wider audience, and it's really, really impressive.

"But he's going to need to do what he has done this year for 10 years for him to be the true new face of the NFL."