Even if you happened to overlook the sidewalk poster touting “Train like Tom Brady,” once you enter TB12 Boston, a bright-white, glossy two-story space, there’s no mistaking who’s behind the brand. Photos of the New England Patriots’ longtime star quarterback are everywhere in the minimalist and rather stark space: in extreme close-up, making eye contact from the cover of his best-selling book, with copies stacked near sacks of TB12-branded protein powder, gear, and folded t-shirts.
Most celebrity athletes kick off their brands with a sneaker or gear deal, but the Patriots QB is focused on the long game. TB12 sells products along with the diet, exercise, and mindset that Brady put to work on the way to winning six Super Bowls, more than any other player in history. Now 42, Brady is in his 20th season in the NFL. The average career for players is just three years. The TB12 tagline is all Brady: “Do what you love better and for longer.”
But the clock is ticking on his career and so, to use a corny football metaphor, Brady is driving towards the end zone. In the past year, TB12 (the name combines Brady’s initials and jersey number) has grown from 20 to 80 employees. And the brand also added a CEO known for building emerging consumer brands. John Burns helped turn Yasso Greek Yogurt and Spartan Race into the big names they are today.
Last month, Brady’s brand opened its first retail and training facility. (The company also has a smaller training facility in Foxboro, near the Patriots’ home stadium.) The multi-level, 10,500-square-foot TB12 Performance & Recovery Center on Boylston St. in Boston’s Back Bay features a café and store, and what looks like the world’s swankiest physical therapy space. The top floor is given over to the retail area and beverage bar, where customers can order Brady’s favorite blueberry-banana smoothie, full of chia and hemp seeds. On the shelves, vibrating foam muscle rollers at $160 each, sacks of plant protein powder for $48, or T-shirts with the TB12 buzzword “pliability” scripted across them ($25, on sale). On the lower level, exam rooms outfitted with massage tables ring a swatch of artificial turf featuring the familiar lines of a football field. CEO Burns says he’s planning to open similar TB12 units in New York City, Los Angeles, and perhaps Miami, adding that the centers should be able to produce $600 to $1,000 per square foot in revenue.
TB12 will also have at least one retailer outside of the company locations. In time to fulfill New Years’ 2020 resolutions, a major retailer will also start selling TB12 branded gear, Burns said, declining to disclose which one.
It’s all in the timing
Matt Katz, an assistant professor of sport management at the University of Massachusetts, said Brady’s push is well-timed. “What he’s talking about now, with diet and lifestyle, makes a lot more sense to people now than it would have ten or fifteen years ago when he was early in his playing career,” he said.
Where football brands tend to be macho, Brady’s is holistic. Stretching your muscles, not bulking them. Drinking lots of water and shunning sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. Just as affluent women turn to Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop for a mix of aspiration, soft science, and merch, men will have Brady (though the brand will offer services for women too). Like Paltrow, Brady has Hollywood looks, fashion cachet, and mass appeal. He has 6.6 million Instagram followers and jerseys featuring his number, 12, are the NFL’s best sellers. Also like Paltrow, Brady can be polarizing. Much of what he endorses is accepted science—avoiding processed foods, eating lots of vegetables and some lean protein—but some of the ideas he pushes are controversial.
Love or hate Brady, TB12’s brand reach is potentially huge, according to Harry Poole, vice president at Alexandria, Va.-based RedPeg Marketing, who has worked with Olympic athletes, as well as NBA and professional soccer stars.
“Brady is going after a space no athlete has owned before. He’s connecting how all aspects of life—eating, sleeping, thinking, and working out relate to how you perform,” said Poole. And because of the dual focus on performance and longevity, TB12 has the potential to speak to athletes who are young and those trying to still perform the way they did in their prime.
And, as Katz noted, Brady is not overexposed. “For his stature, he has been relatively quiet and discerning [product] endorser,” Katz said. Brady’s partnerships have tended to be deep and long-term: UGG, Under Armour (where he owns a stake), Tag Heuer, and Aston Martin, to name a few. “Fewer projects means his endorsements mean more,” said Katz.
“Think of what else is out there for men,” said Paige Arnoff-Fenn of the Boston-based marketing firm Mavens and Moguls. “Dan Marino and Jenny Craig? This isn’t window dressing for Tom Brady. He never shows up at a training camp ten pounds out of shape. This is exactly how he and [wife] Gisele [Bundchen] live.”
“For Tom, it’s family, football, TB12, in that order,” said Burns.
Achilles’ tendons—and heels
If you ask Burns, TB12’s most valuable asset is the training method developed by Brady’s longtime body coach and company co-founder, Alex Guerrero. The method combines deep tissue massage, stretching, and resistance-band training. For TB12, the gold standard isn’t a buff physique, it’s muscles that are limber and flexible, or, in TB12 lingo, “pliable.” At the original TB12 location in Foxboro (also home to the Patriots’ home stadium), Guerrero and the body coaches he supervises developed a track record of being able to heal persistent injuries. Burns limped into TB12 with a groin tear from a hockey game. He healed and became so excited about the brand potential that he came on as investor and CEO. (Burns, an early investor in Lululemon, has shown good instincts in this space before.)
“Our number one goal is to have you leave TB12 feeling a little better than when you arrived,” Burns said. “It’s our big point of differentiation over physical therapy.”
That will likely appeal to aging, affluent customers plagued by grumpy backs or stiff shoulders, but with their minds set on returning to their golf or tennis game in better form. Despite the fact that many of TB12’s body coaches have physical therapy degrees, the facilities don’t take insurance, and the cost is somewhat steep. An initial 90-minute session with a body coach runs $240 and each session after costs $200.
To grow the brand, Burns will need to figure out how to provide the TB12 experience to people outside the cities where they’re planning the training facilities. Possible plans include more TB12 books and video content. And, of course, online sales of buzzing pliability spheres at $150 a pop and stretchy band sets for $95.
But while the TB12 brand holds a lot of promise, it also has an Achilles heel, which also links back to Guerrero. Medical experts dispute some claims Guerrero and Brady have made about nutrition, such as that tomatoes cause inflammation, or that guzzling large amounts of water (TB12 recommendation is to aim for half one’s body weight in ounces every day) can help you resist sunburns.
The Guerrero risk is more than a case of haters or healthy debate. The FTC has banned Guerrero from making false or unsubstantiated claims or misrepresenting claims for food, drugs or dietary supplements after hawking products with untested claims. It also prohibits Guerrero from representing himself as a medical doctor or PhD.
Even still, the company recently launched a line of supplements. Products include a multivitamin, a probiotic, an omega oil capsule, and TB12 Focus, which is touted for “mental clarity.” They are NSF Sport certified, which means the label matches the ingredients found within and they don’t contain any substances banned in competition. A spokesperson for the company said TB12 is allowed to sell supplements.
Brady is intensely loyal to Guerrero, embracing him on camera after recent Super Bowl wins. He has consistently defended Guerrero, even though New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick is reportedly not a fan of the body coach and has limited his access to Patriots players in recent years. Fueling rumors that Brady may be planning to leave New England or retire, both Brady and Guerrero put their houses up for sale in August.
Timothy Derdenger, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who studied the impact Tiger Woods has had on Nike’s golf business, both pre-and-post-scandal, said if TB12 makes claims that are “quack science” Brady will “take a hit on brand value.”
Brady is also vulnerable in case of catastrophic injury while playing. In Woods’ case, while infidelity scandals diminished his value as an endorser, Nike stayed with him because he could still be seen in televised tournaments driving a swoosh’d-up golf ball.
“In research, we found that athletes using branded gear in competition was the most powerful [purchasing] signal for consumers, so Woods still had that [value] for Nike,” Derdenger said. “But Brady doesn’t have that for TB12. He doesn’t throw a TB12 football.”
Instead, Brady’s weapons are his healthy physique and his track record of showing up. “Each additional game he plays is a bonus,” Burns said. “But Tom’s football legacy is secure.”
As for the science, CEO Burns has been hiring nutritionists and is in the process of creating a scientific advisory board. “We’re continuing to put more depth and more expertise and more science behind what we’re doing,” he said.
Overall, he said the TB12 position is, “This is what has worked for Tom. Choose what works for you.”
The next big thing?
Brady has the clout, and the market space, to become the next big thing in wellness. Nobody else has glamorized mobility and flexibility in the way TB12 is working to do. It’s hard to name even one fitness brand addressing older consumers and performance longevity. And that push for longevity is for both the body and the brain. The company also sells a $14-per-month subscription to a brain training service called TB12 BrainHQ. “TB12 targets brain speed so quicker and better split-second decisions become instinctual,” the TB12 site reads.
Visually, the brand looks pretty good, said Arnoff-Fenn, praising the website’s use of nice-looking but ordinary people — rather than, say, a parade of NFL athletes or Tom and Gisele’s famous friends.
Still, she said the logo and merchandise are not as sleek as Brady himself. In particular, the apparel, limited mostly to caps and T-shirts, is rudimentary. “They could do a lot more. I don’t see Gisele and her girlfriends lining up to wear that stuff,” she noted. Some of the packaging is clunky and stark: big red letters on plain white.
If/when Gisele steps up for TB12, the upside could be significant. Most celebrities get a huge sales boost from modeling their own stuff. Think of Beyonce in Ivy Park, or Kim Kardashian West in Skims or Yeezy. Kylie Jenner doesn’t debut a new makeup kit without painting it on her own skin.
At the end of the day, TB12 is a brand just starting out. Undoubtedly, refinements will come as Brady moves beyond New England.
“I think Tom Brady will do very well with this,” Arnoff-Fenn said. “I can see him making more money and being more successful in retirement than he did at the peak of his playing career.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the FTC’s decision regarding Alex Guerrero’s ban.
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