Stay or Go? Robert Griffin III vs Matt Barkley

Personal Branding

Should I stay or do I go now? If I go there will be trouble, if I stay there will be double. In business, deciding on a career transition can many times seem daunting. On one hand you have the world you know, its safe surroundings and met/unmet expectations. On the other hand you have the unknown, with possible financial incentive and increased pressure. Many of us have weighed the pros and cons, financial needs, and long-term goals when making crucial transitional career decisions. Our personal brands were what set up the transition opportunity in the first place, and when we went, our brands went with us.

Sport is business. And whether they get paid or not, the moment athletes declare their college of choice, they become involved in the business side of sports, essentially starting their career. It’s well documented that their actions and participation contribute greatly to the athletic revenue brought in by the university. In 2011 the Texas football program generated approximately $71M in profit. In many states some could argue this is even true at the high school level, making it even more important that athletes take an active interest in their personal brands at a much younger age than they might believe. Their college selection is actually the first transition career choice they will have to make.

An increasing percentage of youth (in 2011 a record number 56 players requested early NFL draft entry) are finding themselves, or toying, with what would be their second transitional decision…..the decision to turn professional. Of course, every situation is individual, but like us, their personal brand is directly related to this career choice.

This year in college football there were two standout junior quarterbacks, facing the question “Do I stay or do I go?”

Robert Griffin III is a Heisman trophy winner who many credit with putting the Baylor football program on the nation stage. His brand is at an all time high – a standout honor roll scholar who graduated a year early and has the reputation for being one of the good guys. Articulate on camera and in interviews, he shaped and molded his brand whether he realized it or not, setting up his transition to the next level. The foundation for his brand has been set, and now is the perfect time for brand growth at the next level, both on and off the field. Thinking in terms of number of eyes on him as he enters his rookie year, his attention to social media (Facebook, Twitter, webpage) and his awareness of fan interaction needs to increase as he embraces his opportunity for brand growth. Asking the following questions can help make better decisions in relation to brand awareness:

  • How can I show appreciation to my fans and those that helped me to grow during my time at Baylor?
  • What content should I have on my webpage and Facebook page to provide a well-rounded showcase of who I am as a player, but also a man off the field?
  • Is the sum of the dollar figure from endorsement opportunities driving my decisions, or do the companies’ values align with my own?

Matt Barkley (USC) is a different story. As a person, he is also known as a good guy, and one who is strong in his faith. So much so that last Christmas, he went with his family to Nigeria to visit orphanages and help those living in extreme poverty, something chronicled in a moving slideshow. 42,700 people follow him on Twitter (@MattBarkley), arguably one of the top followings for a college player. While the content is not exceptional, his frequency of posts is, showcasing both the personality and enthusiasm of a college kid.

Yet, from the sports side, there is unfinished business. USC, a once dominant program, has not won a conference championship since Matt has been there. To add insult to injury, USC has also been ineligible for bowl games for the past two years, eliminating key stages upon which Matt could shine. Speaking of shining, it hasn’t helped having the future number 1 NFL draft pick (Andrew Luck) playing in your conference and siphoning much of the spotlight. As he stays his final year putting the spotlight on himself, he will look to fill some of the gaps in his sports resume. There are certain questions he should ask himself to make the most of that time and to further shape his brand:

  • How do I make the most of my final year – performance and personal?
  • If I could choose the perfect companies and charities to endorse, what would they be? Do they align with my brand values and help me to achieve my long-term goals?
  • How can I let those who disagree or agree with my decision to be a part of the experience? (i.e. do I write an online journal? Video posts? Pictures?)

As an athlete your brand is made up of who you are as a person and how you perform on the field/floor/etc. Holes in key areas can weaken your brand and affect transition opportunities in the future as exampled by Matt’s situation versus Robert’s. Both of them could have gone either way with their decision and timing to go pro. It’s who they are as individuals that guided them to make the right decision at the right time.


Katie Marston is the CEO and founder of DYME Branding, a personal and lifestyle branding company focusing on professional athletes. Follow her on twitter at @ktmarston or learn more at