How Tom Brady Reinvented "The Decision"
Updated: Oct 2
In case you live under a rock or haven't had the time to check (let's be honest, we have all the time in the world with our self quarantines), Tom Brady announced his free agent decision on March 19. Three days after he announced his departure from New England via Instagram, he officially posted about his decision to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In so doing, he broke the collective heart of the New England fan base, made the day of every Patriots hater, and struck fear into the heart of NFC executives. Most importantly, however, is what he's done for himself.
In this decision, he chose to abandon the team that took a risk on him with the 199th pick of 2000 NFL Draft; leaving behind the sports nation with which he won an NFL-record six Super Bowl rings (as a New England fan, I might miss him just a little bit). But looking beyond the heartbreak Brady left in his wake, he actually madea a genius move here. I'll reserve my comments on him deciding to join a team with arguably the best receiving core in the league and a head coach that has worked with Andrew Luck, Carson Palmer, Ben Roethlisberger, and Peyton Manning, because regardless of how his decision turns out from a football standpoint, he inarguably capitalized on the situation from a financial standpoint.
First of all, let's not ignore the 2 year, $50 million, full-guaranteed contract, with $9 million in potential incentives, even though it still falls short compared to both of his star former backups, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett. Beyond the actual contract, however, Brady showed us how such a pivotal moment in his career could be an equally profitable one.
If we think back to the last free agent decision that was this pored over by fans and media alike, as well as this played up by the star themselves, it would probably be what is infamously known as "The Decision." You know, the time where LeBron left Cleveland after eight seasons with them, capped off by the success of two consecutive MVP years? And not only did he leave his hometown team, but he announced this decision live to everyone, including the Cavaliers front office, on a live ESPN television special called "The Decision." This ordeal, which can be considered one of the few potential blemishes on James' resume, was a PR disaster and temporarily tarnished his public perception.
On the other hand, however, the event proved to be extremely lucrative. ESPN committed all proceeds from the showing of the program to charity, and LeBron's shoe sponsor Nike matched that to double the donations. While James did not personally profit off the publicization of his decision, he proved how much money could be risen in the free agency decision process. So, how exactly has Tom Brady advanced LeBron's playbook?
Tom Brady has heard the media talking his whole career, often doubting his talent or claiming his inevitable next Super Bowl appearance would never come. Once he hit free agency for the first time in his 20 year career, suddenly the headlines changed to speculating about where he would take his talents in way that we've only really seen speculation about LeBron, Mike Trout, and Kevin Durant in recent years. Patriots fans have been quelling their dread over this moment for over a year now and the questions and rumors have been circulating for even longer. Brady didn't just make a decision, he milked the entire process starting way back in the Super Bowl and continuing to just a couple weeks before he made his final decision.
The first major instance in which Brady squeezed out the profitability of the situation and turned his lemons into lemonade was with his now-infamous Super Bowl Hulu ad. He already made in excess of $6 million per year from endorsements before signing with Hulu who, in case you haven't seen the Damian Lillard commercials, they pay athletes. Big. Money. No one knew initially that Brady had signed with Hulu, as the teaser to the commercial was a cryptid captionless black-and-white Instagram post picturing him in an arena tunnel, as seen below:
This naturally led to fans and pundits alike speculating about any and every little detail of the picture, from which way Brady is facing, to which arena he is in, to the lack of a caption, and the overall meaning of the post. It was the talk of sports media for days; what many Patriots fans revered as a guarantee of his return, while many fans of other teams considered it the first sign of his inevitable departure.
Ultimately, all this post boiled down to was an ad for Hulu, in which Brady announced solemnly that- get this- "Hulu has live sports," followed by an assertion that he "isn't going anywhere." While this cleared up some questions, it also opened the door for many more and led to weeks more of speculation. If nothing else, Brady made one thing clear here: he knew how much people cared about his decision and he intended to milk that decision as much as he could.
The next opportunity for profit reared its head in another Instagram post, but this time it was former Patriots teammate and best friend Julian Edelman's Instagram. On March 4, as part of a long running mock campaign aimed to convince Brady to stay in New England, Edelman released a post announcing a new installment of merchandise on his online store, JE11 Shop. For weeks he had already been releasing apparel, mugs, and other customizable items with the slogan "Stay Tom 2020: A Quarterback You Can Trust," as a joking spin on free agency and the upcoming 2020 election. The following post was released on March 4, however:
The post was a screenshot of a Twitter interaction between Edelman and Brady, in which Edelman announced a collab between his company and Tom Brady's TB12 Sports company, to which Brady replied asking his company "How much do we make on our Julian Edelman merchandise?" While this was obviously all done in a playful manner, Brady nonetheless sponsored and produced a shirt that supported him extending his stay in New England.
Beyond the fact that this may have been misleading, especially given his subsequent decision to leave, this serves as another instance of Brady aiming to capitalize on the wallets of his fans. All of Patriots nation was on the edge of their seats anxiously awaiting his decision for months and he knew that they would jump at any semblance of a hint he dropped at his decision. To be fair, he was consistently insisting to the media that nobody had any insider intel about his decision, so we won't necessarily hold him liable. But nonetheless, he did make a quick buck off sponsoring a movement aiming to keep him around and by essentially throwing fuel to the false hope fire that was raging in Foxboro.
The final instance of Tom Brady toying with our emotions- ahem- I mean profiting off his impending decision was probably both the most irreproachable and potentially the most profitable. This time he returned to his own Instagram with a Deadline headline that began, "Where is Tom Going Next?" This obviously peaked fans' interests and the following description assuaged some and brought suspicions to others. The headline goes on to state that Tom Brady is "going" to Hollywood since he is launching his own production studio called 199 Productions. Many wrote this off as Tom just playing with his fans' hearts even more, while others wondered if he would physically go to the west coast as well.
Ultimately, Tom Brady turned his first free agency decision into one for the ages, both by shocking the world by leaving his team of two decades for a team that hasn't made it to the playoffs since before his fourth ring, and by reinventing the profitability of the decision process. James' decision walked so Brady's could run. Brady knew not to do a whole television special out of it, for fear of the plethora of associated PR issues, but James laid out the blueprint for producing money out of a free agency decision. In the course of two painstaking months, Brady signed what we can only imagine is an obscenely lucrative deal with Hulu, endorsed and profited off of a line of apparel supporting him staying in New England, and used the extra eyes on him to bolster the attention paid to the launching of his new production studio, all while making a cool $50 million off the Buccaneers to continue playing until he's at least 45.
The question is, where do we go from here? Will we see multi-part docu-series about Zion Williamson's first free agency in the future? Will Connor McDavid launch a multi-million dollar clothing line during his next free agency? Who knows, but the blueprints have been laid out as to how to capitalize on free agency from a business standpoint. We'll have to see what future athletes build based off of it. Oh, and let's hope not to see any more athletes take Mike Trout's route of being the best player in a sport and refusing to ever let any free agency rumors swirl by continuously signing ever-increasing extensions. Lame. Sure, he's making big bucks, but he's not expanding his business presence. As CJ McCollum said now more than ever athletes have to "take some time to really work on life outside of [sports]. Using your resources and celebrity to your advantage . Take the meetings. Diversify and learn to explore other avenues of income while you’re still in the league. Bc when it’s over it’s over !"