Tattoo Artist Nabs $16 Million in Free Ads With Kaepernick’s Ink

The telephone rings nonstop these days at Endless Ink in Reno, Nevada, where the Super Bowl run of Colin Kaepernick has tattoo seekers waiting four months to use the same artist as the San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback.

“Business has really, really picked up, doubled,” says Nes Andrion, Endless Ink’s 35-year-old owner who just might emerge as Super Bowl Sunday’s big winner.

Andrion will get his work displayed for free while companies such as Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, the world’s biggest brewer; Research in Motion Ltd., maker of the BlackBerry; and PepsiCo. Inc., sponsor of the halftime show, are paying as much as $4 million for a 30-second advertisement during the National Football League championship game Feb. 3 between the 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens.

They are paying to be part of one of the rare telecasts that still draws a large live audience. An average of 111.3 million people watched last year’s game, in which the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots, the most in U.S. television history, according to Comcast Corp.’s NBC. This year’s game in New Orleans is being shown by CBS Corp.’s CBS, which reaped an average $3.75 million per 30-second commercial.

$16 Million

Kaepernick, 25, and the tattoos that cover most of his chest, back and arms will get about two minutes of so-called focus time during the broadcast, said Eric Wright, president of Joyce Julius & Associates, an Ann Arbor, Michigan-based sports advertising evaluation company. That will translate into about $16 million in exposure on game day.

“With Kaepernick’s tats expected to be front and center, his tattoo artist will certainly be a major beneficiary -- without having to spend a dime,” said Bob Dorfman, executive director at San Francisco-based Baker Street Advertising. “He won’t be as talked about as the marketers who score the best ads of the game, but for pure return on investment he’ll be very hard to beat.”

The 49ers have been hard to beat since Kaepernick became the starter, going 7-2, including playoff wins over Green Bay and Atlanta. San Francisco is a 3 1/2-point favorite in the Super Bowl.

Kaepernick’s relationship with Andrion, who charges up to $120 an hour, began as a freshman at the University of Nevada. A number of the school’s athletes had tattoos done by Andrion and word of his work eventually reached the 6-foot-4, 230-pound quarterback. Now he goes nowhere else.

College Connection

“I had him do one piece,” Kaepernick told reporters last week. “I really liked it and I’ve been going to him ever since.”

The first tattoo, on his throwing shoulder, was Psalm 18:39, which reads, “You arm me with strength for battle.”

The good fortune isn’t lost on Andrion, who says he came to the U.S. in 1990 after growing up poor in the Philippines, often sleeping on a dirt floor, eating only bread for breakfast and walking the 1 1/2 miles to school in flip flops that didn’t match.

Kaepernick’s tattoos became a topic of debate after AOL columnist David Whitley wrote on Nov. 28 that an NFL quarterback shouldn’t look like a convict.

“NFL quarterback is the ultimate position of influence and responsibility,” Whitley said. “He is the CEO of a high-profile organization, and you don’t want your CEO to look like he just got paroled.”

Andrion laughs, saying Kaepernick is everything you’d want your kids to be.

Tattoo Apprentice

For now, Andrion -- who says he’s never made more than $28,000 a year -- wants to focus on building his business and passing along his good fortune by offering apprenticeships to anyone with a desire to learn the tattoo trade.

“Give them a chance to be who they want to be,” said Andrion, who declined to disclose how much the quarterback has spent on his tattoos.

Hanging in the shop is a picture of Kaepernick and Andrion, who had just put the finishing touches on his favorite of the quarterback’s tattoos, one that reads, “God Will Guide Me.” Part of that one will be visible to viewers on Kaepernick’s left bicep. Other illustrations include scripture verses and the slogan, “Against All Odds.”

Andrion ponders what’s next for his business while driving the 30 miles to work each day in a 1998 Honda Prelude whose odometer reads 188,000 miles.

“He needs to pay Kaepernick to wear a temporary tattoo with the company name on it,” said Wright, of Joyce Julius.

Not even Kaepernick’s friendship, visibility and promotional possibilities are enough to prompt a change of football allegiance for Andrion.

“I’m a Patriots’ fan, bro,” he said. “Colin knows.”

Come Super Bowl Sunday, Andrion said, he’s willing to become a 49ers’ fan just this once.

“I’m really going for him,” the artist said. “He puts money in my pocket.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.