There’s no question that Tom Brady drove numbers — and profit — for the NFL, but the league is going to be just fine without him.
The first Tom Brady retirement (and subsequent un-retirement) was confusing. After his brief winter hiatus from the sport, Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers squeaked into the postseason with a record below .500 for the first time in the quarterback’s career. Amid the run were questions about whether he’d come back in 2023, Brady deflecting any ideas for a retirement tour, and his extremely public divorce with Gisele Bündchen.
It could make it easy for fans to forget the magnitude of his true legacy — even after the second Tom Brady retirement kicked off this week.
Consider the magnitude of the moment when any professional sports league loses its signature face. Think about the money it drives for the league — and look no further than Brady and the Bucs drawing 31.2 million viewers in the Wild Card round, which marks the largest NFL audience on ESPN and ABC since it had Super Bowl XL in 2006.
Jordan. Tiger. Gretzky. Jeter. Brady.
They all either followed in someone else’s footsteps or had other legends follow in theirs. That’s why the conversation about NFL life after Brady is an important one.
You look at NBA Finals viewership with Michael Jordan versus without — the league brought in an average viewership of 14.2 million from 1984-2003; that number dropped to 9.48 million in the 20 seasons since. Now, the NBA is already bracing for life without LeBron James and Kevin Durant; their careers can’t last forever, though it sometimes seems like they can.
In the NFL, ratings are simply a testament to the league’s television dominance. The product is strong, with plenty of parity. Players are getting paid more than ever. The league is marketing its superstars properly. And the NFL has reestablished global relationships that will only grow.
Part of the intrigue here is how they’ve been able to do it while Brady was on his way out. Young superstar quarterbacks have inserted themselves into the equation — Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts, Justin Herbert, Trevor Lawrence, and even Tua Tagovailoa to name a few.
Unlike some other leagues, the NFL is in good hands in the Tom Brady retirement era. And hey, there’s a good chance he’ll still be around the game in the FOX booth.
Let’s take a look at where the league stands as No. 12 says goodbye to the game.
The NFL signed a media rights deal with several companies and platforms worth $110 billion before the 2021 season, and everyone is reaping the benefits. Yes, the viewing numbers were huge for Brady’s final playoff game, but the league did just across the board.
Conference Championship Round
- Bengals vs. Chiefs: 53.124 million
- Eagles vs. 49ers: 52.3 million
NFL Divisional Round
- Cowboys vs. 49ers: 45.65 million
- Giants vs. Eagles: 28.64 million
- Bengals vs. Bills: 39.32 million
- Jaguars vs. Chiefs: 32.31 million
Wild Card Weekend
- Giants vs. Vikings: 33.21 million
- Cowboys vs. Buccaneers: 31.2 million
- Dolphins vs. Bills: 30.87 million
- Seahawks vs. 49ers: 27.46 million
- Ravens vs. Bengals: 26.87 million
- Chargers vs Jaguars: 20.6 million
The NFL salary cap just jumped 7.97% (or $16.6 million) from $208.2 million to $224.8 million. Revenue was up yet again and players are about to get PAID.
The demand is growing as the game becomes faster-paced behind a pass-first style. As NFL RedZone host Scott Hanson told Boardroom, “the NFL always zigs when you think it’s gonna zag.” And overall, there’s a level of parity we so rarely see in sports, especially after the league expanded the regular season to 17 games and the playoffs from 12 teams to 14 in 2020.
The following numbers emerged three months into the 2022 regular season:
- More than half of the NFL was .500 or better (17 teams).
- Only two wins (or less) separated 13 teams from a playoff spot.
- The NFC East’s .703 winning percentage (26-11) was the highest ever through Week 10.
- The AFC East and NFC South divisions’ No. 1 and No. 4 teams were separated by two wins.
Top-selling NFL Jerseys
- Josh Allen
- Micah Parsons
- Patrick Mahomes
- Joe Burrow
- CeeDee Lamb
- Dak Prescott
- Justin Jefferson
- Jalen Hurts
- Justin Fields
- Tom Brady
Six out of the 10 are still on rookie contracts with Brady, Mahomes, Allen, and Dak Prescott being the outliers. The rest are no older than 26 years old.
The NFL is slower in globalizing the sport than most other major professional leagues in America, but better late than never. The league hosted a record-setting five games outside U.S. borders, including:
- A first-ever regular season kick-off in Germany
- Three games in London — the first-ever between two teams above .500.
- Its fifth-ever game in Mexico City (first since 2019).
The plans aren’t stopping in those countries either.
The same way the product will be fine without Brady, Brady will be fine without the product. He’s got a deal on the table from FOX that would reportedly pay him $375 million over 10 years, or $37.5 million per year. The 45-year-old earned more than $333 million since entering the league in 2000 and he was the ninth-highest-paid athlete around the globe in 2022 — $52 million in endorsements and $31.9 million in winnings/salary — for $83.9 million total.
His investment portfolio is endless and his ventures this past season include performance apparel brand BRADY Brand, NFT platform Autograph, and an app-based VR golf experience called GOLF+. He also became a co-owner of a Major League Pickleball team.
In generating millions of fans and millions of detractors, Brady is the greatest of our time, if not ever. He deserves his flowers for not only helping boost the NFL’s product, but for setting a precedent that’s left the game in a better place than it was when he first joined.
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