Be Like Ryan: Why Gatorade Added Its First American Pro Boxing Endorser

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Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Serena Williams are among a long line of star athletes to have endorsed Gatorade during their careers. But until now, the company had never signed an American professional boxer to promote the brand (at least not on a national basis). That changed this morning with the news 22-year old WBC interim lightweight champion Ryan Garcia has joined Gatorade’s roster of athletes. Considering the fighter’s relative anonymity (there have certainly been more famous boxers), it is reasonable to wonder why the Pepsi Co. subsidiary decided to make Garcia its first pro boxing endorsee.

Our Take: Gatorade offered little insight on the logic behind the Garcia signing. Global head of sports marketing Jeff Kearney said: “We pride ourselves on fueling all types of athletes, and those who compete in combat sports, a world we’ve supported for many years, are no exception. Bringing Ryan on at the national level in the U.S. only strengthens that commitment, and it is a testament to his talent and work ethic.”

While that all may be true, it doesn’t really explain what Garcia brings to the table that other boxers have lacked in the past. A pair of marketing authorities–including Michael Neuman (managing partner, Scout Sports & Entertainment)–broke down his value proposition as a brand ambassador. As a Mexican-American, Garcia “reflects the diversity of America, a quality of growing importance to today’s sports marketers.” He also maintains a particularly large social-media presence.

Larry Mann (partner, rEvolution) said the unique combination, which sets him apart from other championship level boxers, provides “a lot of upside [for brand partners like Gatorade] if he gets the bigger name fights.” Considering Garcia is planning to fight Manny Pacquiao next, and after that says he is “going straight for Tank Davis,” much of that upside could be realized within the next 12 months. Dolce & Gabbana, 1800 Tequila and Anheuser Busch are among the other brands that would stand to benefit from Garcia’s in-ring success (he has deals with all three).

Garcia is not yet a household name outside of the boxing world. But with 8.4 million Instagram followers, he’s become an influential figure amongst the Gen-Z demographic. In fact, SportsPro ranked him the 12th most marketable athlete (Nielsen powered the analysis) in 2020, assigning him a higher athlete influencer score than Steph Curry (13), Patrick Mahomes (26) and Tom Brady (30). That would certainly help explain Gatorade’s interest.

The work Garcia has put in to build his social following isn’t just paying off in terms of sponsorship deals. “When I was first coming up,” Garcia said, “a lot of boxing promoters [would say], ‘Social media doesn’t matter,’ [That] it doesn’t have an impact on sales [or] on viewership. I would explain to them, humbly, that it does and that one day it is going to make a difference. And you see that slowly happening.” Garcia’s fights rank among the most watched on DAZN. “Ryan represents the future of boxing,” Newman said. “He’s talented, fearless and savvy on social media.”

In the short-term, Garcia said wants to become “the biggest boxer to have ever lived.” But with plans to retire at the age of 26, it certainly sounds as if this star in the making has ambitions beyond the ring. The fighter would not speculate on his post-retirement plans. Though, he did say the pursuit of social justice would be a priority for him.

Armed with good looks (he models for both Tommy Hilfiger and Abercrombie & Fitch) and a penchant for the camera (see: appearance on Kevin Hart’s Cold as Balls, Family Feud), it is not hard to envision Garcia also pursuing a career in the entertainment industry once he’s done prize fighting. When asked if he sees himself becoming a crossover star, Garcia said, “The way my life is moving, it is already coming about.” The fighter sees his deal with Gatorade as “another confirmation that [his career] is going big.” When pressed if there are motion pictures in his future, Garcia said, “If it’s a project where it’s good and it’s kind and it’s not toxic, of course I’ll be the person to [do a movie].”

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