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A group of the NFLPA members talking to a room of rookie NLF players

NFL Player Marketing with Dexter Santos

Dexter Santos is a 30-year veteran of the sports marketing industry. As the VP of Player Services for Players, Inc., he is responsible for helping 2,700 professional athletes manage their personal brands. If companies want to use an NFL player for anything from t-shirts to trading cards to bobbleheads, they have to go through Players, Inc.

Dexter and his team work diligently to make sure that all of their athletes are maximizing their time in the league, and through that work, he’s developed strategies that transcend the sports entertainment industry and are applicable to any brand or business.

Everybody has a platform

“Everybody knows Tom Brady, and of course Tom is going to have his pick of endorsement deals,” says Santos. “But we make sure that these guys understand they all have a platform — not just the superstars. I tell every player I meet that they have three places they are marketable: their hometown, the place they went to college, and the city they play in now.”

For businesses, the same holds true. You might not be Amazon or Tesla, but you have spheres of influence where people care about what you have to say. The key is to find where that audience is and to go to them with content they care about. This content can (and should) take many forms — host webinars, speak at industry events, write blogs, and engage in meaningful discussions on social media. 

Also, your C-suite shouldn’t be the only people you rely on to promote your brand. Everyone on your team has a unique perspective, a set of skills, and their own areas of influence. Don’t overlook the opportunities for content and thought leadership you may already have in-house. 

Prepare for moments and capitalize on them

When we asked Dexter about some of his favorite player stories, he brought up former Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler. Butler was a relatively unknown player when suddenly he was thrust into the biggest spotlight in the world: a goal-line stand in the Super Bowl.  With a Lombardi trophy on the line, Butler perfectly executed his assignment and picked off the Seahawks’ Russel Wilson to effectively end the game, cementing him as a legend in sports history. 

“I’ll never forget,” says Santos. “I’m in my office and I get a call from someone wanting to get Malcolm Butler for an appearance — it was the Grammys. That one play changed everything for Malcolm.”

You never know when you’re going to get your Malcolm Butler Super Bowl Moment; they don’t come often. But you have to be ready to execute when they do and then capitalize on them afterward. In case you missed it, our own CRO Mike Schatz gave a presentation to some incoming NFL rookies about this very thing. Mike’s suggestions are just as true for executive leaders as they are for NFL players:

  • Be Qualified — Your Reputation Matters
  • Be Authentic — Your Life Experience
  • Align with Your Passion
  • Know Your Expertise
  • Build Relationships

You can read more here.

Embrace new technologies and trends

We asked Dexter how the industry was changing with young athletes who have grown up with a constant barrage of social media and he immediately lit up. “We recently had some brands come to us looking for athletes to partner with them on TikTok. There still aren’t a lot of athletes on that app yet, but some of the younger guys are.  The competition to land the deal was much lower than it would have been on a more popular platform like Twitter and so these newer players signed endorsement deals they might otherwise have lost out on had there been a larger pool of players.”

Is your business embracing new ways to connect with your audience? It’s not easy being an early adopter of any new technology — time and money are finite resources so you must be smart where you invest them.  But being a trailblazer brings great opportunities that usually far outsize the risk.

As Dexter mentioned, one way to get ahead of the curve is to establish an early presence on growing social media platforms like TikTok or Clubhouse. It also might mean changing how you approach the way you do business based on certain industry trends. For example, the prevalence of voice search is growing by leaps and bounds, which fundamentally changes the way forward-thinking companies are approaching SEO.

Part of the fun of being on the leading edge of anything is that there is no rulebook. You’re figuring it out as you go, so accept failure and learning from it as part of the process. The truth is most of your competitors aren’t innovators, making it one of the most significant advantages you can give yourself.

The NFLPA + 5by5

To wrap up our interview we asked Dexter what he thought was one of the most important things to remember when growing an organization, he had this to say:  “It’s not the business stuff that grows an organization; it’s relationships. At the end of the day, people are the most important thing, not a product.”


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