For Jacksonville Jaguars CMO Julian Duncan, watching the rise of quarterback Gardner Minshew echoes comparison to the team’s turbulent history.
Minshew’s road to the NFL has been anything but straightforward. After beginning his collegiate career at Northwest Mississippi Community College, the Flowood, Miss., native transferred to East Carolina – and graduated from there in 2017. Following his stint at ECU, Minshew joined Washington State as a graduate student in 2018. As the Cougars’ starting quarterback, he helped lead the school to a record-breaking 11-win season. He also led the FBS in pass completions, passing yards per game, and was second in total passing yards.
Despite his overachieving collegiate career, only the Jaguars took a chance on the 6-foot-1, 225-pound gunslinger – with the 178th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
“In a lot of ways, [Gardner Minshew’s] story is the Jacksonville Jaguars’ story,” Duncan said. “The franchise didn’t come to the city of Jacksonville with ease – we had to fight for it 25 years ago. When you take all those things and you shake them up together, you have the makings for a compelling story about a guy who wasn’t handed anything – being a part of a franchise that wasn’t handed anything.”
After the Jaguars’ starting quarterback Nick Foles went down in Week 1 with a left shoulder injury, in stepped Minshew. Even though Jacksonville stands at 4-5 record entering Week 10, the team is still within two games of the AFC South-leading Houston Texans.
Minshew’s rise has also translated to success off the gridiron for Jacksonville.
Since September, the Jaguars have recorded top-10 follower growth in the NFL across their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts, said Duncan.
According to Fanatics, an online sports merchandise retailer and official Jaguars partner, Minshew has been a top-10 selling NFL player across its network.
He is also the Jaguars’ top-selling player since the start of the season – with his merchandise accounting for 30% of the team’s Fanatics team shops during their Week 6 matchup versus the New Orleans Saints, which was televised nationally on Sunday, October 13.
“If you had challenged us to script the start of our season, we wouldn’t have been able to dial it up this way,” Duncan said. “But we’re excited to be in the place that we’re in.”
Outside of Minshew’s football skills, his confidence and all-natural personality have helped fans of different age groups connect with him. Families are now attending Jaguars game like they never have before, said Jaguars Chief Content Officer Chad Johnson.
To further promote the Saints game, the Jaguars gave out 35,000 mustaches to fans – something that represented more than just a free giveaway, said Johnson.
“We look at the entire fan experience from the time you walk into the stadium to the time you leave and what are the connection points we can have with our fans,” Johnson said. “You saw people – once they walked into the stadium – immediately seek out the locations where we are giving those mustaches out and immediately putting them on. You saw a mother and father and two young children all dressed the same way. They were able to share that experience, which is a very unique and exciting thing for us.”
The increased attention brought to the team by Minshew Mania has further been aided by the additional content the team has built around the celebration of its 25th anniversary.
On September 17, the team launched “Perspectives,” a weekly podcast featuring first-hand accounts of the team’s rise since its inception. The inaugural episode starred former head coach and current EVP of Football Operations Tom Coughlin. It’s also led by Jaguars.com Senior Correspondent Brian Sexton, who not only became the youngest-ever NFL radio play-by-play announcer in 1994 but is only one of three people to have attended all 501 Jaguars games in history leading into mid-September.
Outside of Perspectives, the Jaguars have three other podcasts available to the public: Drive Time, Happy Hour, and The Doug Marrone Show. With content that focuses on both public knowledge and insider access, each podcast aims to tell a story about the Jaguars’ current and former history, said Duncan.
Duncan has seen athletes strike lighting in a bottle before. Before joining Jacksonville in October 2018, he was a brand manager at Nike where he worked with athletes like Jeremy Lin and Tim Tebow.
After Lin’s rapid ascension with the New York Knicks, he realized that the first instance wasn’t a fluke – and needed to react quickly while it remained relevant.
Now with the Jaguars, he’s taken those lessons learned from Linsanity and Tebow Mania to elevate the buzz surrounding Minshew and his already important role in the team’s history.
“The lessons I’ve learned from [Linsanity and Tebow Mania] is that you have to be nimble and agile,” Duncan said. “You also need to pounce on those stories and deliver them in as close to real-time as you possibly can in a way that’s organic and that provides deeper access for people to get as much out of that moment as they possibly can.”
(Editor’s note: This story previously listed the wrong date for the Jaguars’ Week 6 matchup versus the New Orleans Saints – it was televised nationally on Sunday, October 13.)