The San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick doesn’t play or look like a prototypical quarterback along the lines of Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. And the fact that Kaepernick is so different has been great for merchandise sales.
In recent weeks, Colin Kaepernick’s no. 7 jersey has been the NFL‘s top seller. Kaepernick merchandise sales have been so strong—rising 350% week over week in mid-January, according to fanatics.com—that the 49ers boasted the most NFL-licensed merchandise sales in January, up 240% compared to a year ago. To some extent, this should come as no surprise: The 49ers made the Super Bowl, after all, and Kaepernick is the team’s starting quarterback.
But what makes Kaepernick so fascinating, and what seems to have given 49ers gear sales such a phenomenal bump, is that pretty much everything about him is surprising to fans. We love underdog “he came out of nowhere” stories, à la Jeremy Lin, and we love the prospect of any “next big thing,” and Kaepernick is appealing on both fronts, even if he couldn’t quite seal the deal in Super Bowl XLVII, with the 49ers falling 34-31 to the Baltimore Ravens.
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As the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy notes in his column about Kaepernick, “Wearing his oversized Niners cap in flat-bill, rapper style, he looks like a kid you’d find in a skateboard park.” Both how he looks (tattooed arms, scraggly goatee) and how he plays (heave the ball 70 yards one play, run for 70 yards the next) would never be described as old-fashioned, making Kaepernick especially popular with younger fans:
This 25-year-old man is NFL Future. He is 6 feet 4 inches, weighs 230, and is ripped. Freezing defenders, running the trendy “Read Option,” Kaepernick can sling it and he can beat you with his legs.
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Kaepernick’s atypical rise to glory also resonates. Kaepernick played for a college not exactly known for producing NFL superstars (University of Nevada-Reno), he was the 36th pick in the 2011 draft, and he threw a grand total of five passes in his rookie season. Until he took over as 49ers quarterback for Alex Smith this past November, “NFL fans probably didn’t know Colin Kaepernick from Colin Powell,” to quote the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Since then, it’s been a wild ride. According to the Modesto Bee, interest in Kaepernick jerseys increased 1100% at the NFL Shop soon after his starting debut, and sporting goods stores in Kaepernick’s native northern California have been regularly sold out of his #7 jerseys and T-shirts.
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That’s not to say that everyone is a fan. In late 2012, one AOL columnist bashed Kaepernick for his tattoos, saying that the quarterback looks like he “just got paroled” and that all the ink was a bad influence on kids. Silly criticisms aside, Kaepernick’s look is one of the reasons he’s a big hit with the next generation of fans. Compared to Kaepernick, traditional clean-cut veterans such as Peyton Manning look like corporate executives—and who wants to root for them?