The NFL is about to draft its next great kicker, and possibly the position’s first marketing success story.

Matt Araiza didn’t expect to become the breakout star of college football last season. He didn’t plan on earning nicknames like “kick god” Y “The gambler who was promised.” He also didn’t think he would give up his final year of college eligibility and declare for the NFL draft.

In fact, the San Diego State punter and placekicker had his eye on playing in his school’s new stadium next season while pursuing a master’s degree. But then there were punts of 50, 60, 70 and even 80 yards, some NCAA records and the prestigious Ray Guy Award, given to the best punter in college football. Suddenly, everything changed for the 21-year-old.

“It’s like in basketball when someone’s hand is hot,” says Araiza. Forbes. “My foot is hot right now, and I want to take this momentum to the next level.”

That momentum is likely to secure a lucrative future: NFL bettors earned an average of $1.6 million last season. And in Araiza’s case, there could be even more money on the table. The San Diego County native already has a deal with Giorgio Armani that hasn’t paid him anything in cash, but he has dressed him in what he estimates to be around $15,000 worth of clothing. He also cashed in about $7,500 from Panini on a rookie card deal, with an option to double that, a promising start for a player at a position often overlooked by marketers.

Without the name recognition that follows offensive stars like running backs and wide receivers, punters and kickers are lucky to do better than five-figure deals from local and regional brands, according to George Washington University sports management professor Lisa Delpy. Neirotti.

Still, while he may never match quarterbacks like Tom Brady ($45 million), Patrick Mahomes ($22 million) and Aaron Rodgers ($11 million) with their multimillion-dollar annual endorsement paydays, Araiza is in. on his way to joining a select group of special teams. sponsors Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker has done commercials for Dr Pepper, Duracell and Royal Farms. Former Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos punter Marquette King was an ambassador for the Velodyne headphone company.

There is more. Araiza is of Mexican descent, and the NFL is actively trying to embrace its global fan base. Four of the highest single-game attendance totals in the NFL came in Mexico City, including a 1994 preseason game between the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Oilers that drew a record 112,376, and the league has plans to back there in 2022. Still, the number of Latino players in the NFL is less than two dozen, not even enough to field a full team.

Mexico-based brands could gravitate to Araiza as a sponsor, says Eugene Lee, senior vice president of Vanguard Sports Group. But, he points out, “everything off the field has to line up. There has to be excellence on the field, and there has to be outstanding character off the field. He has to be an attractive candidate for these brands as an ambassador.”

The rest is up to him, a significant challenge considering punters tend to fly under the radar. While they play a vital role in the battle for field position, something Araiza excelled at with San Diego State, kicker success doesn’t translate into points on the scoreboard or highlights like game-winning field goals. match.

“Unlike catching an acrobatic touchdown or shooting an accurate throw in coverage, there really isn’t a lot of camera time spent on the punt itself,” says Lee.

Even if he manages to get into the hearts of fans, Araiza will still need to hone his skills as a promoter and develop his social media presence, which is a “big driver” for finding brand deals these days, says Lee. Araiza has less than 25,000 followers between Instagram and Twitter. Carolina Panthers punter Johnny Hekker, by comparison, has nearly 150,000 across all platforms.

Araiza won’t be part of the draft fanfare in Las Vegas this weekend, as he chose to watch from his home with his family in San Diego, and says he’s not making endorsements a priority. Instead, he keeps his focus on landing one of the league’s 32 punt jobs, aided by his triple-threat ability to punt, kick and field goals.

“If I go out and I’m a Pro Bowler in my rookie year, deals will come,” Araiza says.

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