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Rob Gronkowski, Robert Kraft CBD connection just tip of industry iceberg

Rob Gronkowski, a partner in Abacus Health Products, announced the company's partnership with Gillette Stadium, Patriot Place and the Kraft Group on Friday.
Rob Gronkowski, a partner in Abacus Health Products, announced the company's partnership with Gillette Stadium, Patriot Place and the Kraft Group on Friday.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Whether it was John Wayne puffing on a Camel, Brooke Shields musing about her Calvin Kleins, or David Ortiz snapping a selfie on his Samsung with President Obama, celebrities have always been a go-to for hawking products.

But there may be no better pairing than the snowballing trend of linking elite athletes, especially those from rough-and-tumble sports, with CBD products.

So when Rob Gronkowski spoke Friday morning at Gillette Stadium about the pain relief he gets when he uses his endorsed CBD balm on his oft-bruised and battered body, it was not too difficult to suspend skepticism that he was only making the pitch for the endorsement check. Every Patriots and NFL fan has seen their share of highlights of the tight end getting bulldozed, dragged down, and upended by defenders.

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“I know the experience of being hit every single week, of taking hits, of going through practice, so I just want this alternative way to be available to players with no worries, to have it right there at the locker, wherever it is to be super visible,” said Gronkowski. “This would have helped give me the relief I was looking for throughout the week. Yes, you’re going to sustain big hits on Sunday, big hits on Monday night football or whatever it is, so throughout the week, throughout the meetings, it would have helped me out tremendously. So I could have paid attention to what I needed to do because my pain would have been less severe.”

It’s hard not to wince at the memories of Gronkowski being hit and being hurt, but it’s also hard not to see how his well-publicized arrangement with CBDMEDIC is only the beginning of more and more such pitches.

Rob Gronkowski and the CBDMEDIC brand will be on display all around Patriot Place and Gillette Stadium, but notably not inside the stadium until the NFL’s stance on CBD products changes.
Rob Gronkowski and the CBDMEDIC brand will be on display all around Patriot Place and Gillette Stadium, but notably not inside the stadium until the NFL’s stance on CBD products changes.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The upcoming tide of CBD commercials featuring well-known elite athletes is on the rise — think the barrage of FanDuel and DraftKings ads from a few years back — in large part because it makes so much sense.

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“The physical toll that these sports take on these athletes’ bodies is well known and well acknowledged, so for them to speak from a first-person perspective of the benefits they receive by using these products goes a long way — it’s the credibility side of things,” said Shawn McBride, executive vice president of sports at Ketchum. “You can’t get more authentic than [Gronkowski] at this point in time. He’s built for this, as far as being brand ambassador and brand spokesman.”

It doesn’t hurt that CBD products, of varying quality and purity, have worked their way into the marketplace with remarkable speed and efficacy, and the CBD market is projected to grow into a multi-billion dollar segment of the marketplace the next several years.

“Yes, CBD is legal in all 50 states, but in general, the mind-set and the stigma is going away from CBD and a lot of marijuana-associated products, so I think there’s more of a consumer open-mindedness about this, generally speaking,” said McBride. “That contributes to the effectiveness of athletes versus entertainers, who would be perceived probably by many consumers — a little bit of speculation here — of taking this more for recreational purposes rather than the personal and authentic elements that come from athletes.”

Besides Gronkowski, soccer star Megan Rapinoe is repping her twin sister’s all-female CBD company. There’s Bubba Watson from the PGA Tour, Paul Pierce, Tiki Barber, Joe Montana, Floyd Landis, and a truckload of UFC fighters.

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What also helps allow the athlete/CBD message to get through is that consumers are learning the difference between CBD-only cannabis products and those with some degree of psychoactive THC, the compound that gets you high.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there about CBD,” said Perry Antelman, CEO of Abacus Health Products, which makes CBDMEDIC ointments from THC-free hemp crops grown in Oregon. “Abacus and CBDMEDIC are not a marijuana company, not a medical marijuana company, and not a pot company.”

The link between sports and capitalism is a bone-crushing handshake, which is why it was notable Gronkowski’s pitch came in a Gillette Stadium suite, and his advertising will be around — not in — the stadium. For now, CBD is not allowed by the NFL, but it’s not difficult to see the support of the Patriots, the Kraft Group, Gillette Stadium, and Patriot Place owner Robert Kraft as being part of a larger business opportunity that likely will open up even further.

“I think [Kraft’s tacit support is] very significant, and further demonstrates the idea of how so many of these owners have the mind-set of wanting to be out front of emerging trends,” said McBride. “It immediately makes me think of [Washington D.C.’s multiple pro sports franchise owner] Ted Leonsis and how he, very early on, was such an early advocate of sports betting and has continued to embrace it.

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“All of these owners, they’re operating within the rules but looking at new opportunities constantly.”


Michael Silverman can be reached at michael.silverman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeSilvermanBB