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Friday, July 12, 2024

How To Be Cool: Why Joe Burrow Is Taking Over Football

  • On Sunday night, Joe Burrow could advance to his second straight Super Bowl.
  • The 26-year-old is rapidly becoming the most appealing star in the NFL — for fans and brands alike.
Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer-USA TODAY NETWORK

The NFL sold over 50,000 tickets to the potential neutral site AFC Championship Game between the Bills and Chiefs. Then the Cincinnati Bengals throttled the Bills in Buffalo.

When Joe Burrow was asked about ruining that plan, the quarterback had a mocking response.

“Better send those refunds,” he quipped to Tracy Wolfson of CBS Sports after the 27-10 win.

That’s Joe Cool: cocky, quotable, charismatic. But with a chip on his shoulder. 

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Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs is still the face of the NFL. And Jalen Hurts of the Philadelphia Eagles and Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills are often considered better athletes. 

But on Sunday night, the 26-year-old could advance to his second straight Super Bowl, and he is rapidly becoming the most appealing star — whether that’s as the perpetual underdog who wins, “America’s Boyfriend,” a brand ambassador, a cigar smoker, or all the above.

“If you’re a guy, you want to be him,” Bose Head of Partnerships Jack Daley told Front Office Sports. “He’s the guy you want your daughter to date.”

The Burrow phenomenon comes down to two aspects: his ongoing origin story of beating on-field odds, and his uncanny ability to be cool yet accessible and relatable through his overtly candid personality. 

Saving The Queen City

Throughout his pro and college career, the Ames, Iowa, native has been overlooked in favor of QBs with stronger arms and faster 40-yard dash times. 

But each step of the way, Burrow has beaten more highly rated prospects — and made his doubters look foolish. 

Burrow was buried on the Ohio State depth chart. He split for the LSU Tigers — and in his final season threw a then-record 60 TDs en route to winning the Heisman Trophy and National Championship.

Just as the NFL world was anointing Mahomes and Allen as the future of the league, there was Burrow rudely crashing the party.

  • Pre-Burrow, the Bengals were 0-7 in road playoff games over 53 years. With him under center, they’ve won three. 
  • In a division long dominated by the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, Burrow has led the Bengals to two straight AFC North titles — a first for the franchise since conference realignment in 2002.
  • Burrow already has as many playoff wins (5) as all previous Bengals quarterbacks combined, per ESPN Stats & Info
  • Over the last year, the Bengals are a combined 4-0 against Mahomes’ Chiefs and Allen’s Bills.

Before all the swagger, the wit, and the cigars, it’s his “blue-collar” story, tangible statistics, and rapid ascension that have already appealed to brands both local and national.

Electric truck company Lordstown Motors inevitably partnered with Burrow because the brand has Ohio roots — but CEO Edward Hightower told FOS that was secondary to his on-field history.

“Our tagline, our philosophy is work for it,” Hightower said. “He embodies work for it as a principle.” 

He stands out for the tinted sunglasses, turtlenecks, and diamond necklaces, but there’s an earnest Midwesterner who never forgets where he came from. During his Heisman acceptance speech, he brought attention to the problem of poverty in rural Ohio, creating the Joe Burrow Hunger Relief Fund. 

Burrow, Blake Griffin, and other athletes just purchased a farm in Iowa — and plan to buy four more.

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‘America’s Boyfriend’

Burrow’s combination of wins and off-field persona has attracted major attention in the media. That’s contributed to everything from jersey sales to viral social media videos — they want a piece of him and they want to watch him.

“If you look at the other quarterbacks at his level from a performance point of view, I don’t know that anybody commands that kind of attention in social media and the press that he does,” Daley said.

He contributed to historic ratings on CBS: The Bengals’ victory over the Bills attracted 39.3 million viewers — the most ever for an AFC Divisional Playoff game in the early window. Top morning sports talk shows, from Get Up to Sportscenter, have made him a focal point of their NFL coverage.

Burrow’s No. 9 Bengals jersey was the fourth best-seller this season, behind Allen, Linebacker Micah Parsons of the Dallas Cowboys and Mahomes. That’s hugely impressive given the Bengals are a small-market team.

It’s not just TV, though — the obsession with Burrow permeates social media.

Fancams dominate on Instagram and TikTok — and even influencers have begun posting videos swooning over Burrow’s talent, charisma, and appearance.

Dubbed “America’s Boyfriend,” Burrow’s bachelor potential is an understated aspect of his image — despite the fact that he’s been dating college sweetheart Olivia Holzmacher since 2017.

One example: Golf influencer Paige Spiranac posted a video about the warning signs that Burrow has “stolen your girl.” 

“She’s weirdly buying you a lot of turtlenecks and sunglasses. She asks you what time is the Bengals game. She never liked football before. What is going on?”

Smoke Show

In 2020, after winning the CFP National Championship with LSU, Burrow lit up a victory cigar and parked himself on a couch. The photo and video were instantly iconic.

That cigar became one of the symbols of Burrow’s effortless cool. Yet it was the first he ever smoked.

“Mine was about halfway gone when they said it was time to do media, and I didn’t really want to give it up,” Burrow told Fox Sports. He finished the cigar on that couch while waiting to do his press conference and the rest is history.

“He looked like he knew what he was doing, that’s for sure,” Nick Douglas, the director of humidor operations at The Party Source in Bellevue, Kentucky, told FOS. “He definitely has the swagger to go with the luxury lifestyle of a cigar.”

The Party Source — about a five-minute drive from Paycor Stadium — frequently sees running back Joe Mixon pick up cigars for the team. Last season, when the Bengals clinched the AFC North, Douglas passed along a La Flor Dominicana specifically for Burrow.

It quickly became known as “the Joe Burrow cigar” — and promptly sold out across the Cincinnati area.

After the Bengals won the AFC North this season, Burrow was seen smoking a Cuban Cohiba — one of the most expensive and elusive cigars in the world.

“It’s not like it’s something that anybody could go out and just get off the street right now,” Douglas says. “I wish I knew where he got the Cubans… They’re expensive cigars, but he’s got the money to buy ’em.”

Campaign Trail

For brands, Burrow’s humor, fashion sense, and social media following is mere window dressing. He’s a highly coveted endorsement because of the stories he tells.

For one thing, Burrow is more open about his personal life than other high-profile NFL players. That has helped earn him sponsorship dollars from brands who don’t have to manufacture an advertising campaign for him — they can simply latch onto a story he’s already told.

Bose, for example, wanted their NFL campaign to star Burrow because he has an easily recognizable personal connection to music: his friendship with fellow Ohio native Kid Cudi.

Bose created a spot highlighting the friendship and how Cudi’s music has influenced Burrow’s life and playing career. “It felt like just a great opportunity to sell that story,” Daley said. The campaign has garnered more than 50 million views — the most-watched Bose spot of the 2022 calendar year.

Once he signs a deal, his authenticity becomes a driving force. 

“He’s an engaged person,” Lordstown Motors CEO Hightower said. “I think when he decides to get involved with something, he goes all in on it.” Hightower spent time with Burrow when he toured the plant — and reported that he was enthusiastic about meeting the workers and learning about the technology.

Burrow’s marketability is even rising among sponsors at the gilded Madison Avenue firms — the ones that, once upon a time, were looking for a Tom Brady.

“Although the Bengals aren’t an attention-heavy team, a win in the Big Game could make Burrow a big name in the endorsement game,” said Bob Dorfman, creative director of Pinnacle Advertising, who tracks athlete endorsement prospects. 

“While it’ll take considerably more on-field success to reach the level of a Brady or Manning, Burrow is young, talented and well set for long-term success — pitching footballs and products.” 

Pay The Man

Heading into Sunday, Burrow is 3-0 against Mahomes. 

If Burrow beats Mahomes again, he will have led the Bengals to the Super Bowl in two of his three NFL seasons. And topped Mahomes twice in a row in the AFC Championship at Arrowhead.

Should he win a Super Bowl, he will have already matched Mahomes’ greatest on-field feat. Then the question is whether he can defeat Mahomes financially: The Chiefs quarterback’s $450 million deal is the largest contract in North American sports history. 

Before Burrow’s arrival in Cincinnati, the Bengals had missed the playoffs four seasons in a row and had not appeared in a Super Bowl since 1988. 

The Ohio high school football player quickly helped them become a perennial contender.

He is playing pro football’s most important position better than anybody else, according to ESPN’s Ryan Clark, the Super Bowl-winning former safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

“Joe Burrow is going to be a clinic tape for the next two decades,” Clark said on “Get Up.”

Under his current rookie contract, Burrow’s is one of the league’s biggest bargains, earning $3.9 million this year. By average annual value, the 27-year-old Mahomes makes $45 million, fifth-most in the NFL. Burrow, who is an unrestricted free agent in 2025, makes $9 million, good for 226th. 

After throwing for 35 touchdowns and 4,475 yards during the 2022 season, the Bengals want to extend Burrow in the offseason, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

The “floor” for Burrow’s upcoming negotiations is likely to be Arizona Cardinals’ QB Kyler Murray’s $46 million-a-year deal, via the New York Post. 

That means he’s looking at a ten-fold raise, minimum, for his next contract.

The Bengals want to invest in Burrow because they know he’ll give them the best chance to win for years to come — as Burrow boldly declared recently himself. 

“The window is my whole career.”

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