Jalen Hurts at a pep rally at Lincoln Financial Field a week before Super Bowl LVII (Stanley Weaver-Mendez/WHYY)

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Regardless of what happens Sunday, Jalen Hurts is in line for a hefty contract once his rookie deal runs out. And with the clout he’s amassed, there’s room for plenty more. 

Beyond traditional endorsements, there’s extra cash on the table for sports celebs these days — on social media, all they need is a photo and a caption. 

“There is a metric that looks at how much it costs to get your post in front of 1,000 people,” Thilo Kunkel, a Temple professor who studies sports marketing, told Billy Penn. “The industry standard that we see for really high profile athletes is hovering around $10 per 1,000 people.”

Hurts has about 1.1 million followers on Instagram. It just takes some quick math to see simply posting a pic can make the Eagles quarterback tens of thousands of dollars. 

Kunkel studies “brand-networking” — i.e. when athletes crosspost or tag each other on social media and bring their followings together, and how franchises are pursuing players to help diversify their brand as a team. 

These tactics all exemplify a new era, where the advertising opportunities on social media are growing exponentially. Athletes, their agents, and sports franchises alike are getting wise to how to maximize profit in that environment. 

Studies on the importance of social media branding for student athletes — which was recently legalized in Pennsylvania — and the ubiquitous presence of social media departments at sports agencies make it clear this shift is here to stay. 

NFL franchises are becoming serious experts in brand-networking. 

In-house social media teams are more in touch with agents, athletes, and managers than ever, with all being exceedingly deliberate in their tagging, cross-posting, and mentions of big names on their squad. 

It also helps when a player has the perfect name, as Hurts’s move to trademark “Hurts So Good,” demonstrates. Another example: Oklahoma Sooners QB General Booty (yes … that’s his name).

This isn’t just an American thing. The world of European football has a few examples. 

Clubs looking to grow their North American audiences have been pumping up the fanfare around the arrival of U.S.-born players. These athletes might be good on the field, but the possibilities of using their likeness in social media content are an active consideration as well. 

Kunkel recalled the 2017 transfer of Javier Hernández, the famed Mexican striker, from German club Bayer Leverkusen to English team West Ham. Shortly after the deal was announced, he said, the Leverkusen Instagram account lost 100k followers in one day.

Leveraging on-field (and online) success

One of the important factors in brand-building is scale — and widely watched events like the Super Bowl are the perfect platform. 

“It’s so valuable to be in front of hundreds of millions of people for several hours,” said Kunkel. “Particularly when you are a standout player, when you have a crucial role such as a quarterback, it’s absolutely priceless to be in the spotlight for that long.”

The young QB that’s best flipped his big wins into big cash, per Kunkel? Hurts’s Super Bowl LVII rival. 

Put simply, Patrick Mahomes is killing it. With a Super Bowl MVP performance, an NFL MVP season, and five straight AFC Championship game appearances already under his belt, Mahomes is signed to what’s been called the third-biggest contract in sports history, behind only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. 

Along with his bevy of endorsements, scholarships and investments, the Kansas City superstar is a shoe-in to bank in on his social media presence as well. 

There’s no precise economic valuation of follower counts or online impact athletes bring to the table in contract negotiations, but Kunkel noted it’s increasingly a factor — one that varies based on how athletes use their platform and what franchises are looking for. 

“Athletes at the level of competing at the Super Bowl, they generally don’t sign these one-off deals on social media,” Kunkel added. Deals often include a couple of regular posts, plus dropping a link on the IG story a couple of times — and it adds up quick. 

With the per-1,000 followers metric in mind, a player can turn their IG page into a parasocial pot of gold. 

“If you look at Jalen Hurts’s Instagram, he’s got 1.1 million followers. If you just applied that metric, you’re looking at about $11,000 for one social media post, and generally they’re lumped in, so it’s a post plus three or four stories,” Kunkel explained. 

“[An athlete] like that, if they wanted to, can easily make $50,000 in an hour just working with one brand.”

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Jordan Levy is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn, always aiming to help Philadelphians share their stories. Formerly, he has worked at Document Journal, n+1 Magazine, and The New Republic. He...