The superstar Super Bowl champion long called Tom Terrific is looking a lot more like Tom Tainted these days, after the National Football League "Deflategate" report concluding it "more probable than not" Tom Brady knew team staffers were fussing with his game-day footballs – and it looks like he pressured them to de-pressurize those balls.
Now the question is how much damage has been done to the Tom Brady brand and its power to garner him, by Forbes’ estimate, $7 million a year in endorsement deals on top of the $20 million he makes from football.
"Every brand goes through its ups and downs, and this is a pretty serious one for Tom Brady - especially considering his history. It's been a pretty stellar track record till now," Eric Fulwiler, a vice president at Boston advertising shop Mullen, said in an interview Thursday afternoon.
Brady has been choosy about what he associates his image with, opting for niche luxury brands like Movado watches and Glaceau Icewater, and adding some macho to the onetime girls’ boot brand Uggs – but you don’t see him flogging fast food, beer, or cars.
Fulwiler doubts any of Brady’s sponsors dump him – at least not immediately.
"If I'm Uggs, I'm worried about long term. You probably don’t pull down any of your ads, any of your media spending right now. You’ve got to wait and see how it runs out. It is a long-term thing. If the Tom Brady brand is still as strong as it has been in two years from now, it still makes sense for him to stay with Uggs and Uggs to stay with him," Fulwiler said.
Frank Shorr, director of Boston University's Sports Institute and a senior lecturer at BU's College of Communications, said, "I don’t think that the branding and the merchandising are going to be affected."
But, Shorr said, Brady does have a new reputation problem that requires some special attention.
"What every athlete finds is, if you just say that you’re sorry, if you just say you did it, say that you're sorry, people will forgive you and you can move on," Shorr said. "We're talking about inflating and deflating footballs here, you know. We're not talking about murdering somebody."
It appears that for the most part, Americans have already decided whether they love or loathe Tom Brady, and this story doesn’t look likely yet to change a lot of people's opinions.
"I feel like he's really arrogant, and he probably had something to do with it," said Christine Tamulis of Norton, Massachusetts, one of several sports fans necn interviewed on the street outside Fenway Park Thursday.
Still, she predicted, "People are still going to like him no matter what because he has so many Super Bowls and because he's done so much for the New England Patriots."
"He got caught," said Dean Richens of Yorba Linda, California. "He looks ridiculous. From L.A., you look at it and you go, 'Come on. You're guilty. Fess up.'"
But Michaela Spannaus of New York said, "What's done is done. I still think that they deserve to win. They would have won either way."
And despite being a Seattle Seahawks fan, Stefan Skalbania of Seattle said: "He's a great quarterback. I mean, I've always had respect for him ... I still think it's cheating, and the fact he tried to cover it up is bad, but I don't think it's going to drasticallly affect his legacy."
While Fulwiler doesn't think Tom Brady's endorsement business is in immediate trouble, he does think the Brady brand needs a plan.
"You're paying athletes to endorse a brand because people want to be associated with it. People respect what they have to say, and that's no longer the case if you're considered a liar and a cheater - which hopefully in the long term Tom Brady isn't. So it comes down to the short term and navigating through this, and hopefully he comes the other end with a brand that's as strong as before," said Fulwiler.
"I think you have to address it," Fulwiler said. "Any story that breaks in the wrong direction, you either have to get ahead of it, or it's going to get ahead of you."
With videographer Abbas T. Sadek