Johnny Manziel is already setting records, and Monday he could set a standard that may be tough to match. The records aren’t on the field, as the Browns’ rookie has still yet to take a snap with the first team. But it is easy to predict that Monday’s game against the Washington Redskins on ESPN will be one of the highest rated/most tweeted NFL preseason games ever. All the stars are aligning, an ESPN nationally televised Monday night game against a premier franchise, and according to Browns’ Head Coach Mike Pettine, a start for Manziel.
We knew Manziel was a ratings draw. His Texas A&M team scored the highest rated non-BCS bowl matchup in ESPN history. Manziel’s regular season battles with Alabama were also huge draws. Most recently, while playing with second-string players on a Saturday in the summer, Manziel drew the largest rating for an NFL Network preseason game. People want to watch Johnny Football.
The all-out media coverage, intense scrutiny, and in some cases irrational exuberance is similar to another successful SEC mobile quarterback: Tim Tebow. Tebow also drew big ratings playing with the second team, and much like Manziel, ESPN couldn’t get enough Tebow coverage.
Tebow parlayed his ratings success in his short career as a player into a job with ESPN. Manziel, on the other hand, will try and parlay his success into endorsements. Some brands may be wary of hopping on the next hot thing without proof of success, especially if Manziel is a back-up for the Browns. Other brands may be wary of Manziel’s off-the-field exploits. Still, we already know that Manziel is a draw, he has the league’s No. 1 selling jersey. After ESPN sets ratings records this Monday, expect Manziel to continue to be a media darling. We will be seeing more of Johnny Football, not less, even if he’s not starting when the regular season begins.
Michael Colangelo is Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute and Senior Editor of The Fields of Green.