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Adrian Peterson: Big Business As "Purple Jesus"

Coming off his single game rushing yards record on Sunday, the hype surrounding Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has reached a fever pitch.

Perhaps the most remarkable story coming at the water cooler where fantasy sports owners have been talking up Peterson, who was drafted in most leagues as an early-to mid-third round pick.

To find out just how much Peterson could be worth to fantasy owners in real hard cash, I called up Greg Ambrosius, the editor of Fantasy Sports Magazine. Greg told me he believed that 40 percent of people who will win their leagues this year will win because they have Peterson on their team (30 percent by the way because of Brady, he thinks). How much is that worth? Try $600 million in real money, if you consider that about $1.5 billion will be won in fantasy football leagues this year.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars are riding on Peterson’s performance on the field,” Ambrosius said. “It’s looking like he’s going to be the best pick since Curtis Martin in 1995.”

Next, we’ll look at jersey sales. Reebok, the makers of NFL jerseys, have been churning out Vikings #28 jerseys as fast as they can. Sources are telling me that since week three of the season, Peterson has outshipped Brady Quinn Cleveland Browns jerseys by a 2-to-1 margin and Jamarcus Russell Oakland Raiders jerseys by a 4-to-1 margin.

Peterson, who reached his highest jersey ranking at No. 15 on Oct. 24, hit No. 11 yesterday in total sales, and if he keeps playing the way he does, he’ll be in the top 10 in a couple of weeks.

FYI--here's the Quick Top 10 jersey list snapshot: 1. LaDainian Tomlinson, 2. Reggie Bush, 3. Brian Urlacher, 4. Peyton Manning, 5. Brett Favre, 6. Troy Polamalu, 7. Vince Young, 8. Tom Brady, 9. Randy Moss, 10. Brady Quinn.

Obviously, there’s not enough Peterson jerseys at some stores in some places in the country because on eBay last night between the hours of 5 p.m. and midnight E.T., 49 Peterson jerseys were sold--an unusually high number.

EBay is obviously a good metric of hype. For example, on Sunday, the day of his record, more Peterson items sold than any other day (1,582 items) and for the highest average price ($54.57 per item).

The trading card companies are doing all they can to capitalize on the mania surrounding Peterson, who already has been dubbed “Purple Jesus.” Both Donruss and Upper Deck have tons of autographed cards of Peterson and both are trying to increase output. Donruss, which has marketing rights on Peterson, is in a good position because they have him on seven of its 12 football products.

“Before the first snap of the season, we made a bet on Adrian,” said Donruss spokesman Scott Prusha. “We saw him at the rookie photo shoot and he was the nicest kid we’ve ever met.”

Peterson’s Upper Deck SP Rookie Threads card currently has a value of $300 and who knows what his latest card will sell for. The company just decided to add Peterson to the Nov. 14 release of its Ultimate Collection Football Set ($100 per pack), where collectors can find a signature card with the NFL shield from his Vikings jersey. Upper Deck is also updating his rookie card from the factory set (January release) to include a photo from his record-breaking game.

Fathead, the brand that makes those huge wall posters, rolled out a Peterson version this $99 week. The only other Vikings player they have available is Daunte Culpepper, who of course is now on the Raiders.

Peterson has marketing deals with EA Sports (don’t worry, it’s not a Madden jinx, he’s on the cover of NCAA Football ’08) Nike ,CytoSport’s Muscle Milk and Qwest Communications . His autograph deal is handled through Peach State Sports in Atlanta.

Nike has made the quickest and most valuable mid-season move of all the sponsors so far. For Week 8, Nike expanded its rights agreement with the league to include swooshes on players gloves for the first time since 2002. Peterson was wearing the gloves with the swoosh on the velcro wrist strap for both weeks including the the record-breaking game last week.

Sources told CNBC that Nike, as well as most of the companies currently involved with Peterson, have started to mobilize to figure out what they wanted to do immediately as well as draw up a schedule for the offseason. If there’s any knock against Peterson from a marketing front, it’s that--as one marketer anonymously told me--“he’s not the greatest talker in the world.”

“It’s not the first time I’ve heard this feedback,” said Bill Henkel, managing director of 10 Sports Marketing, which represents Peterson for marketing. “He and I have discussed it and the thing I really respect about him is his desire to be excellent in everything he does.”

Henkel says that Peterson has already improved with more media and endorsement responsibilities.

“I believe there is a natural maturation process for almost every athlete,” Henkel said. “Look at early interviews of Michael Jordan or Emmitt Smith or Peyton Manning and I think most people would agree that they have each vastly improved their skills over time.”

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com