Generations of influence in a new NFL season.

The new National Football League (NFL) season brings with it the beginning of the end of an era.

Tom Brady, perhaps the great player of the 21st century, is starting what may or may not prove the final season of a 23-year career. At 45, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback has come out of a very short retirement - lasting just 40 days this March and April - to pursue an eighth Super Bowl ring, and a second in Florida.

Brady’s landmark contribution to the sport is already reflected in what awaits him when he actually does step off the field for the last time. In May, he signed a ten-year contract worth a reported $375 million to become the lead on-air analyst at Fox Sports.

That will complement a burgeoning identity as an entrepreneur. Brady has co-founded three businesses. TB12 Sports is a fitness and lifestyle brand based on his own principles of training and nutrition. BRADY is an apparel company which last year developed its own custom colour, Brady Blue, in partnership with the Pantone Color Institute. NFT platform Autograph develops and sells exclusive digital collectibles from elite sports stars liek Wayne Gretzky, Simone Biles and Tiger Woods.

It all builds into the image of a sports icon who has defined his time in the NFL, where rapid change is on the horizon. Media is an obvious example. The league creates the most sought-after programming on traditional American television, having agreed over $110 billion in broadcast deals for the next decade, but Amazon Prime Video will have exclusive Thursday night games this year, Apple has been linked with a Sunday ticket package, and the NFL+ subscription streaming service has also arrived.

Meanwhile, the next generation of quarterback talent is already here. Matthew Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams won a home Super Bowl in February. Josh Allen’s Buffalo Bills are favoured to go a long way this time around. The player who could still be likeliest to succeed Brady as the league’s biggest star, meanwhile, is the richly gifted 26-year-old Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who starred in Super Bowl LIV back in 2020.

Heading into the new season, Mahomes joined a select group of athletes, influencers and entertainers - including LeBron James, Ariana Grande, Harry Kane, Neymar and Naomi Osaka - to be featured as a limited playable ‘skin’ in the online battle royale video game Fortnite. A selection of in-game items was also released as part of the Fortnite Icon Series, along with a Mahomes Saucy Style alter-ego character.

Gaming is set to become even more central to how star players connect with fans. Developed as part of a multi-year deal with Enthusiast Gaming, Tuesday Night Gaming will debut this season, with teams made up of NFL players and legends as well as gaming content creators competing in esports challenges that will be live-streamed on YouTube in the US and Canada.

The release of each new instalment in the Madden NFL series from EA Sports has been an eagerly anticipated part of the calendar for over 30 years. Following last year’s change in the name, image and likeness (NIL) rights rules that long prevented college athletes profiting from endorsement and licensing deals, the same publisher will relaunch its NCAA series in 2023.

Indeed, more broadly, the arrival of college stars with their own endorsement deals will create its own set of dynamics in the seasons to come.

Whatever happens in the NFL in 2022, there are visions of tomorrow emerging.

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