How Jason Kelce built his personal brand and became a Philly legend

Jason Kelce is sticking with his underdog brand as his post-NFL career takes off.
Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Philly icon and former Eagles star Jason Kelce has continued to make headlines since he announced his retirement from the NFL on March 4, 2024.

A few days after Kelce’s announcement, Campbell Soup unveiled its first Legend Edition Chunky can that pays homage to the former football center. One month later, Kelce surprised fans when he got in the ring at WWE’s WrestleMania XL, which was held in Philadelphia. And on April 29, ESPN announced it is working on a deal to bring Kelce on as an NFL analyst.

As marketing and branding scholars at Temple University’s Fox School of Business, we published a case study on Kelce in early 2024 that explores how he’s built such a strong and enduring personal brand over the course of his career and how this brand can help him stay relevant in retirement.

‘An underdog is a hungry dog!’

An athlete’s personal brand is how the public perceives them based on their actions, expertise and achievements. Athletes with strong personal brands can earn higher salaries and sign bigger endorsement deals. It can also help maintain fans’ support for the athlete – or their team – even if the athlete’s on-field performance declines.

The key to defining an athlete’s – or any individual’s – brand identity is to identify some key words that capture their strengths. In Kelce’s case, we’d argue that “determination,” “grit” and “hard-working” are all terms that reflect his appeal.

Fans will recall Kelce’s unscripted speech on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2018 after the Eagles won the Super Bowl. Kelce, regaled in a full Mummers costume, an elaborate outfit used in Philadelphia’s annual New Year’s Day folk parade, celebrated the team’s underdog status.

“We were a bunch of underdogs. And you know what an underdog is? It’s a hungry dog,” he said. “And that’s why we’re the first team in Eagles history to hold that freaking trophy.” The crowd roared.

Kelce has demonstrated grit since his early football career, when he alternated positions a few times before finding the right fit. He had started his college football career as a walk-on running back at the University of Cincinnati before switching to left guard and finally to center. His perseverance paid off when, after being drafted in the sixth round by the Eagles in 2011, he reportedly became the first rookie in Eagles history to start all 16 games at center.

In his 2024 retirement speech, Kelce reminisced about his early days at Cincinnati.

“It became apparent immediately that walk-ons would have to fight harder for their opportunities than the rest of the team,” he said. “I had … no investment from the team or the coaches. I’d have to earn everything, and that’s good, because I had no clue what hard work was yet.”

This early moment of clarity dovetails directly into Kelce’s underdog mentality, which has served as the baseline for his personal brand of authenticity throughout his career.

Four shirtless men, one wearing green leggings and a face mask, stand in a wrestling ring in a crowded stadium
Jason Kelce made a surprise appearance at WrestleMania XL in Philadelphia in April 2024. WWE/Getty Images

Personal values

Personal values are another essential component of a personal brand. For Kelce, those appear to be a commitment to family, community and charitable causes.

He frequently posts social media photos relaxing with his wife and three young daughters, and he praised his parents in his emotional retirement speech. He co-hosts his “New Heights” podcast with his brother, Travis Kelce, an All-Pro tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs who’s also romantically involved with Taylor Swift. The brothers intertwine football and family throughout each recording and have garnered over 2 million subscribers on YouTube alone.

A woman cheers with her fist in the air and stands beside a bearded man wearing red and yellow checkered overalls
Kelce and his mother, Donna, cheer for the Kansas City Chiefs during the 2024 Super Bowl. Rob Carr/Getty Images

Jason Kelce is also fiercely loyal to both Cleveland Heights, his hometown in Ohio, and his adopted home of Philadelphia.

In October 2022 he, started the (Be)Philly Foundation, which provides financial assistance and mentors to Philly youth. Kelce has also donated time and money to the Eagles Autism Foundation, most notably by creating and hosting the raucous annual Team 62 Fundraiser – named for the No. 62 jersey he wore with the Eagles – at the Jersey Shore. And he partnered with local authorities in his suburban Philadelphia community to sponsor the adoption of a Labrador retriever for the Haverford Township Police Department.

Kelce is authentic, transparent and straightforward in his personal branding, which focuses on his being an elite athlete and involved family man. With this powerful brand, we believe he has the potential to follow in the footsteps of another Philly legend, Charles Barkley, who has remained a pop culture icon nearly 25 years after he hung up his basketball jersey.

This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit, independent news organization bringing you facts and trustworthy analysis to help you make sense of our complex world. It was written by: Amy Lavin, Temple University and Sheri Lambert, Temple University

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The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.


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