Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz could be sidelined from Super Bowl LII next weekend in Minnesota, but his popularity as a sophomore has taken off in the league.
Almost as much as success on the field, jersey and merchandise sales are a huge sign of popularity in professional sports. This is where Wentz – a legitimate MVP contender before suffering a ripped ACL at the end of the season in December – passed Tom Brady for the best-selling jersey for the 2017 NFL season.
The official NFL store noted this week that Wentz finished with the best-selling jersey. He was followed online by Brady, Dak Prescott, Antonio Brown, and Ezekiel Elliott.
As Brady prepares to lead his New England Patriots against the Wentz Eagles in next week’s Super Bowl, there’s surely a lot to discover here.
Two top five members of the Cowboys confirm their America’s Team status. This, despite the fact that Elliott served a six-game suspension over allegations of domestic violence and the Cowboys themselves completely missed the playoffs.
Jersey sales also appear to be more a product of market size and popularity than anything else. Eight of the 14 best-selling jerseys last season were from players from teams that did not make the playoffs. This includes both Derek Carr and Marshawn Lynch of the Oakland Raiders.
For his part, Lynch has been in the news more as a pop culture and political figure than as an actual football player. After spending the 2016 season on a brief retirement flirtation, he returned to his Oakland roots to sign with the Raiders.
Almost immediately, Lynch’s personality took hold when he was kicked out in an October game against the Chiefs for pushing an official. Lynch was ultimately suspended by the NFL for the following week’s game. Then, in a November game against the Patriots, Lynch took part in the national anthem protest by sitting down ahead of that outing in Mexico City. This has drawn the ire of President Trump and his cronies.
Lynch’s ranking as the 14th best-selling jersey is an example of personality and politics that prevail in actual performance on the pitch.
Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva was far from a known commodity until Week 3, when he parted ways with the rest of his teammates and stepped onto the pitch for the national anthem. It happened the same day hundreds of NFL players protested President Trump’s divisive comments about them days earlier.
Villanueva, an army veteran of the war in Afghanistan, has seen his popularity take off. Ultimately, this led him to boast of the league’s seventh best-selling jersey in the last regular season.
These two examples will show us just how divided NFL fans have been over the entire national anthem debate.
The size of the market obviously plays a huge role here as well. In total, 15 of the top 30 selling jerseys came from teams in the five largest markets. That includes the San Francisco Bay Area, where new 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo came in at No. 25.
This is relatively shocking considering that Garoppolo wasn’t traded to San Francisco from New England until after Week 8. Of course, Garoppolo’s field performance played a role here, but he took a sort of rock star character among 49ers fans. This is the main reason for its growing popularity.
Speaking of quarterbacks, they represent 12 of the 30 that made the NFL’s best-selling jerseys list. This includes rookies Deshaun Watson (Texans) and Mitchell Trubisky (Bear).
Of course, this is a clear indication that quarterbacks are more popular than any other position in football. After all, Trubisky was 4-8 with just seven touchdowns in 12 starts for the Bears as a rookie.
Only two active players in next week’s Super Bowl (Brady, Rob Gronkowski) make it to the top 30. No active Eagles are listed here.
To compare for a second to other leagues, the best-selling NBA jerseys of the 2016-17 campaign were directly correlated with performance on the field.
Stephen Curry led the Association in this category for the second year in a row, ultimately leading his Golden State Warriors to their second title in three seasons. 2017 NBA Finals opponent LeBron James finished second with Finals MVP Kevin Durant completing the top three.
Factoring in Kyrie Irving at No.5, and four of the NBA’s five best-selling jerseys last season, were players who made it to the finals. The only exception was league MVP Russell Westbrook, No. 4 overall.
We can all draw our own conclusions about what this means, but it seems obvious that field performance has very little to do with jersey sales in the NFL. The evidence presented above shows this perfectly.