Yahoo! Sports published an extensive piece by Rand Getlin and Dan Wetzel on Johnny Manziel and his college friend and handler Nate Fitch. The report lays out how Fitch served as the barrier between Manziel and people who may have jeopardized his NCAA eligibility. Throughout the piece, the fact that Manziel could have made millions while at Texas A&M is emphasized:
“I think it would look similar to his value now, but in my opinion, I think he was worth more right after the Heisman Trophy,” Fitch said. “. . . I think it’s fair to say $8 [million] to $10 million dollars.”
That number may seem like Fitch is just throwing a dart and guessing, but the reality is he is backed up by professors and sports marketing professionals throughout the article. Manziel was the most marketable college football player in the country. He already had the Johnny Football brand, a hard-partying, hard-playing quarterback from Texas. He was a winner on the field and a Heisman Trophy winner. Just through appearances, endorsements and autographs, he undoubtedly could have raked in cash. Not to mention the pay-for-play concept many endorse for college players.
The idea that athletes should get paid for their likeness is not new. We just went through a summer filled with O’Bannon case news. The NCAA and its partner schools make money off athletes through gate receipts and TV contracts, but also through jersey sales, video games and memorabilia. That really hasn’t changed. Even with the O’Bannon ruling, not much has changed and the NCAA has failed to address the issue.
This is a continuing problem. Even without pay-for-play, Manziel is estimated to have foregone up to $10 million dollars. That is not chump change. What if Manziel was injured and never made it to the NFL? What if Manziel is an NFL bust? What if he hurts himself Sunday in his first NFL start? Sure, Manziel has endorsements now, but Fitch says his friend was never more valuable than right after he won the Heisman Trophy in 2012.
Manziel is not the first, nor will he be the last, cult-followed college quarterback. Tim Tebow, who is now out of the NFL, could have cashed in while at Florida. What about Matt Barkley or Matt Leinart at USC? Current NCAA quarterbacks such as Todd Gurley or J.T. Barrett would have money to fall back on if they don’t recover from injury. Marcus Lattimore was a big name at South Carolina, and he never stepped on the field at the NFL level due to injury. There are multiple examples of lost income due to NCAA rules.
The NCAA says it is looking at remedies. The problem is, the NCAA loses the public relations battle every time a story like this comes out. Then again, for every Manziel, there is a college swimmer who is getting an education, or an under-privileged youth who got a free-ride to a top-tier school he or she wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise.
The Yahoo piece is interesting in other areas. It’s hard to believe that Manziel wasn’t brand conscious while at Texas A&M. His picture was plastered on social media, meeting celebrities or partying around College Station. He had to know what he was doing. He was creating a strong brand image in college. A brand people wanted to see. The only problem was that he couldn’t cash in on it. This Sunday Manziel will make his first start for the Cleveland Browns. A victory and a playoff push may mean more endorsements down the line. But if he flames out, he might have already missed his most marketable period of his career, when he was an amateur.
Michael Colangelo is Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute and Senior Editor of The Fields of Green.