Brett Favre talks with the media after his first practice with the Minnesota Vikings on August 18, 2009 at Winter Park in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
For all of the negative publicity produced by Brett Favre’s latest retirement flip-flop, fans have flocked to watch him in action — and buy his memorabilia.
Over just a 10-day span following his arrival in Minnesota, Favre’s No. 4 Vikings jersey — still a strange sight — was the top seller on the NFL’s merchandise Web site for the entire sales period from April 1-Aug. 28. It costs $80.
Newness always helps: Jay Cutler ranked second and Michael Vick was fourth during that timeframe. The Favre phenomenon, however, seems like it’s just one of a kind.
Perhaps the only person surprised to hear about Favre’s jersey-selling success was his most prominent Vikings teammate.
“I think I’m more popular than Brett Favre, but he’s got an advantage,” running back Adrian Peterson said. “I think what gets him over the top is the Packer fans that live here also.”
So, Peterson was asked, have you gotten one for yourself?
“I’ve been scared to sit here and ask him for one,” he said, smiling.
Peterson shook his head as he recalled the mother of a high school friend approaching him after a recent game in Houston to ask him if he could get Favre to autograph a jersey for her.
“She’s never asked me for a jersey, ever,” Peterson said. “I was like, ’All right. I’ll see what I can do.”’
Favre was also asked Wednesday if he had considered acquiring one of these items for himself.
“I don’t think you can get any,” the quarterback deadpanned. “They’re real hard to find right now. I only say that because friends and family have asked if I can get one. The only ones I have are the ones I play in.”
On the football side, Favre has brought stability and a record-setting resume to the most important position on Minnesota’s offense. Off the field, the wow factor of having Favre on the team has helped take some of the attention away from the other stars such as Peterson.
“Normally people come up to me and ask me to get this and get that,” Peterson said. “Now flip it around.”
It has alleviated some of the interview requests from reporters, too.
“Now it’s not all on me, so that’s cool,” Peterson said.
The Vikings aren’t among the top 10 selling teams on NFLShop.com, one sign of how popular Favre truly is.
“It is normal for sales of a player’s jersey to jump significantly when he changes teams,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. “However, we’re witnessing the Favre factor. Favre has sold more jerseys than anyone in NFL history. He was a perennial top 10 seller for the Packers, was number one last season with the Jets and is anticipated to be among the top sellers this season with the Vikings.”
Troy Polamalu and Ben Roethlisberger of the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers ranked third and fifth, respectively, on the April-August jersey list. Success sells, as does a storied franchise.
Favre, Cutler and Vick have been popular buys because of the novelty, but they each come with some controversy.
Vick was jailed and suspended by the league for his role in a dogfighting ring before recently signing with Philadelphia. On a smaller scale of negative public relations, Cutler unhappily forced his way out of Denver and was traded to Chicago. And Favre has frustrated fans — not to mention alienated many loyalist supporters of his old team in Green Bay — with his indecision.
The polarization factor, said sports marketer Matt Delzell, has actually been a boon for Favre.
“Now that he’s got some ’haters’ the people who do like him are especially more likely to go out and buy his jerseys,” Delzell said in an interview from his Dallas-area office. He works for entertainment marketing agency Davie Brown.
Favre will likely always be a major generator of buzz.
“That’s why you have celebrities with 2 million followers on Twitter,” Delzell said. “There is an increasing obsession about the celebrity world, with sports figures and with anything new and fresh. It just continues to grow.”
Stephen Ross, a sport management professor at the University of Minnesota, echoed that theory.
“Just the intensity of the Favre sales is I think surprising for anybody, but if you look at it there hasn’t been a whole lot of movement of players around the NFL this year. So people are going to be less likely to buy jerseys, especially with the economy,” Ross said. “New and novel is the way to go.”