“Intimate” is probably the right word. At six-foot-six and 265 pounds, Kyle Rudolph takes up a good portion of the back seat of the UberPool we’re riding around San Francisco in.
Why am I jammed in here with the Minnesota Vikings tight end, playing a Madden NFL video game? Well, I’ll admit that when the ride-sharing company called and asked if I wanted to test the service, but with an NFL star in the middle of a work day, it wasn’t a very tough sell. Rudolph is one of a half dozen players who will surprise passengers of Uber’s carpool service throughout the weekend.
On the drive, Rudolph said his agent hooks him up with all kinds of promotions during the Super Bowl. He isn’t even going to the game.
For Uber, the promotion is part of the company’s push to get more people using UberPool, which is the company’s cheapest and most efficient offering. NFL players are also a big carrot for luring new users, specifically the out-of-towners here for the Super Bowl. Uber wants those people, many of whom may have never tried ride-sharing, to download the Uber app instead of, say, that of arch nemesis Lyft. Presumably, the hope is that getting to ride with a professional football player might do the trick.
So, Uber slapped the EA Sports logo on the side of big SUVs and put even bigger NFL athletes inside those cars to play video games with some of its UberPool passengers while they are chauffeured around the city.
It’s one of many stunts by both Uber and Lyft, which are doing all kinds of marketing this weekend. Uber has hired NFL players to deliver food to people as part of its uberEATS service and, on Wednesday it delivered puppies to people around the city. Lyft, meanwhile, put out this fun video of San Francisco 49ers legend Jerry Rice going undercover as a Lyft driver and dancing with his passengers.
A former Pro Bowler and star at Notre Dame, Rudolph is no stranger to fan promotions.
“So much of the stuff that we do out here and that I’ve done in the past is just go sign autographs,” he said as we cruised around town mostly chatting, but playing a little Madden, too. “You just sit at [a] tent and just sign autographs for a couple of hours. This is something that’s a little more intimate with the fans.”
I asked Rudolph if the Super Bowl dog-and-pony show was a big moneymaker.
“Depending on the player, some guys do really well,” he said. In this case, Uber and EA Sports split the bill for this promotion, which is more low key than most. Some NFL superstars are all over the marketing material for big corporate Super Bowl parties, for instance. “I’m not quite on that level, I’m just out here to have a good time,” he added.
It might sound silly for an NFL star with a multi-million dollar contract to play video games with strangers for a few extra bucks, but Rudolph is smart. He knows the NFL is a ruthless business, and contracts aren’t guaranteed. A torn ligament in your knee and …
“We have to make a lifetime of living in five, 10 years if we’re lucky,” he explained, saying he’ll walk away after the weekend with a few thousand bucks. “The average career is three and a half years. It’s crazy to think about.” Rudolph, 26, just finished his fifth.
Rudolph is a great co-passenger. He’s much more interested in answering my questions than actually competing at Madden, which is fine with me. He said he’d never heard of Lyft until he saw one of the pink mustaches earlier this week. “Pretty much everywhere I’ve been — Minneapolis, Cincinnati — it’s all Uber.” (I asked if an Uber spokesperson, who was riding shotgun, asked him to say that. He said no.)
That wasn’t the only reason Rudolph was a good investment for Uber. He was friendly, even when I played as the Seattle Seahawks, the team that recently knocked his Vikings out of the NFL playoffs. We talked about his favorite stadium to play in (Green Bay’s Lambeau Field), whether he takes ice baths (not regularly) and what it’s like to play as yourself in a video game (“Growing up, what do you do? You create yourself. So, it’s cool.”)
Our ride ended before our game, so I hopped out of the Uber with the score standing as a 7-7 tie. “That’s probably good,” said Rudolph. “We both win.”
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.