What Happens to TB12 When Time Finally Defeats Tom?

While vacationing in Lake Tahoe over New Year’s, my son threw a stray football to another kid he had just met. “Wow, you threw that just like TB12!,” the boy noted.

Tom Brady’s brand building has been so masterful in such a short period of time that ‘TB12’ can literally either mean the performance company or the future Hall of Famer. Alongside friend, controversial trainer and business partner, Alex Guerrero, Brady opened the TB12 Performance Center in 2014 right next to Gillette Stadium offering services like Injury Assessment and Prevention, Post Rehabilitations and Concussion Treatments.

Within a year the TB12 empire blossomed, selling endless lifestyle products geared toward the general sporty population. In addition to the $200 Nutritional Manual, there has been a much cheaper self-help book, an app, a meal delivery service and, of course, performance pajamas. Not to mention the cornucopia of wellness products from medicine balls to TB12 snacks to an agility ladder, most of which come with the genius marketing strategy that the ladder you buy is the same one used by “athletes at the TB12 Sports Therapy Center in Foxboro.” Translation: Tom Brady may have breathed near your new agility ladder.

For every person that mocks Tom Brady’s avocado ice cream recipe and pledge that high water consumption prevents sunburn, there are 500 who marvel at the routine of the 40-year-old greatest quarterback of all time still excelling in a sport not meant to be played by humans. They know they can’t be the GOAT, but they’d like to get as close as possible.

“You can say he has overachieved up until now and that gives credence to his whole TB12 philosophy,” says Bob Dorfman, Creative Director at Baker Street Advertising, a San Francisco based firm.

But what happens to the aura of TB12 the company when Father Time decides that enough is enough and the namesake athlete behind the brand starts to regress?

Every time even the slightest notion of regression starts to creep into the NFL zeitgeist, Brady throws an off the chart pass across the field, annihilates a defense during the two minute drill and hoists another Lombardi Trophy. Despite logic and the disapproval of his wife Gisele, Brady wants to play until he’s 45.

While the “Tom vs. Time” narrative is great for the TB12 brand, the likelihood of Brady still reigning supreme in five years is slim. At some point he will either have a sharp physical downward trajectory like Peyton Manning or Brett Favre or, more likely, start having more bouts of slight regression that will seem major because the expectations of excellence are so high. From a lifestyle standpoint, Brady can ride off into the sunset with at least half his fingers covered in Super Bowl rings. But a debilitated Brady would not exactly align with the company’s core philosophy of extended peak performance and injury prevention. This isn’t Manning trying to sell pizza and insurance.

“If he does regress pretty substantially, that’s going to be a problem,” Dorfman says, adding, “As long as he performs, it substantiates a lot of that philosophy. If it stops working, this stuff is going to look more and more like BS.”

Joe Favorito, a long-time sports public relations and marketing expert, believes that Brady having aggressively set up his next act while still playing will compensate for any notable slip in performance.

“I was with someone today and they don’t watch football, but they said they would watch Tom Brady play football because they know him as a brand,” he says. “Who else has a bigger forum than Tom Brady?”

You can walk past a bookstore and see his manual prominently displayed on a Sunday morning, and then see him demonstrate the effectiveness of everything in the book on tv hours later.

Brady’s almost two decades in the limelight have also been fraught with potholes. Deflategate, tirades at teammates (and coaches) who fail to live up to his standards, FTC allegations of fraud against Guerrero, and most recently, an ESPN report insinuated that it was Brady who urged the Patriots’ quizzical trade of Jimmy Garoppolo to San Francisco. As such a polarizing figure, Brady will never win a Q rating contest. But he doesn’t have to. “Everything seems to bounce off of him as long as he succeeds and wins Super Bowl,” Dorfman says.

When Brady does retire, the shift in TB12’s strategy to a general audience will likely continue. His lifestyle manual, while marketed as a guide to peak performance, offers accessible tips for any human who wants to incorporate some healthy habits, particularly those 40 and over. (How hard is it to drink a little more water?)  As long as Brady still looks the part in retirement, Favorito believes TB12 is well positioned for widespread success.

“The casual lifestyle of staying healthy is going to be much more important than being an NFL athlete because as you get older more people will know you for that than, ‘oh by the way you used to play football.’” he says. “We’re aging as a population, and the people that Tom Brady’s second act are going to appeal to is a much larger audience than what he appeals to playing in the NFL.”

Even so, TB12 the company better have a reinvented marketing strategy because at some point TB12 the player’s on field domination will no longer be the world’s most effective advertisement.