Business of the Super Bowl

Marshawn Lynch: The NFL's renegade marketing star

Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is a notoriously prickly personality who clearly doesn't like NFL-mandated media appearances. In the pre-Super Bowl media session this week, the athlete spent four minutes curtly responding to questions with "I'm just here so I won't get fined."

Sunglasses over his eyes and a hat from his Beast Mode line resting on his signature dreadlocks, Lynch flexed the renegade attitude that has repeatedly incurred the league's wrath—not to mention the enmity of sports reporters. However, the media frenzy surrounding Sunday night's championship game against the New England Patriots has amplified Lynch's unique brand.

The five-time Pro Bowl running back is slowly becoming one of the NFL's most marketable players, despite constantly provoking the ire of NFL brass.

"He's definitely marketable, but big, established brands won't sign him. Brands that are more innovative or counterculture might go for him," said Manish Tripathi, an Emory University marketing professor and co-founder of Emory Sports Marketing Analytics.

Renegade and trend setter

Seattle Seahawks’ running back Marshawn Lynch is shown during a press conference in Phoenix, Ariz., Jan. 29, 2015.
Kirby Lee | USA Today Sports | Reuters

Lynch, whose knack for plowing through defenders earned him the nickname "Beast Mode," has often defied authority in his eight-year career. Just this season, he racked up at least $100,000 in league fines—for refusing to talk to reporters and over his touchdown celebrations.

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Lynch's "anti-corporate" attitude has only increased his appeal to the casual fan, said Ross Steinman, chairperson and associate professor of psychology at Widener University who has studied fan psychology.

By deliberately running afoul of the NFL's expectations for its players, Lynch has strengthened his personal brand.

Take Lynch's Beast Mode apparel, which he flaunted at media sessions this week against league rules. He first publicly unveiled a Beast Mode hat on Tuesday, and by Friday had generated 10 times more sales revenue than it had in the previous week, said Mitch Grossbach, president of M3/Relativity, which manages the brand.

The line first went on sale early last year, and sales since Tuesday have surpassed all of 2014, Grossbach said. Two color combinations of the hat he wore—which cost $33—sold out online.

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A Beast Mode pop-up store on Tuesday started selling apparel in Scottsdale, Arizona, about 25 miles from University of Phoenix Stadium, where the game will be played. By Friday afternoon, the store was "not far from being depleted," Grossbach said.

Lynch's Super Bowl influence extended to the corporate world, as well. Mars-owned Skittles released a video of a mock news conference this week, where Lynch answered questions much more completely than he typically does for the media. Lynch is known for eating the candy on the sidelines during games.

The frenzy surrounding the actual game will only expand Lynch's platform, Tripathi said. On Thursday alone, he was mentioned in more than 200,000 tweets, and the interest will likely increase once he takes the field.

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The strength of Lynch's brand fundamentally relies on the league, though, Steinman said. He noted that many consumers who have latched on to Lynch are still, at heart, NFL or Seahawks fans.

"He has to walk a fine line. You don't want to alienate all of the potential consumers who are at their core NFL fans," Steinman said.