Johnny Manziel should be allowed to cash in on his popularity

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There was no bigger individual on the field during the 2012 college football season than Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel. The red-shirt freshman came out of nowhere, dominated week-in and week-out, led his team to ten wins and secured a Heisman Trophy. The nickname “Johnny Football” caught on like wildfire and the personal brand of Johnny Manziel is possibly as high as it will ever get at this very moment. And Johnny Manziel won’t cash in on any of it.

One only needs to look at another star athlete in the SEC – Marcus Lattimore – to see that the risk of career threatening injury is very real.

Oh, sure, he has a heavy Heisman Trophy that he could maybe sell on eBay a few years later, and of course, there’s a chance that he’ll cash in for millions with a sweet NFL deal in a couple years. There’s no guarantee, however, of future income in the NFL. One only needs to look at another star athlete in the SEC – Marcus Lattimore – to see that the risk of career threatening injury is very real.

Moreover, Johnny Manziel doesn’t play football like a star NFL quarterback. He’s small and is most dangerous with his legs. There’s no guarantee that he’ll even be a high draft pick.

It’s not absurd to argue that Manziel’s peak value is right now, right after winning his Heisman Trophy. Because there’s a real possibility that Manziel will never be more popular than he is right now, Manziel and his family should be able to capitalize on it.

At this point in the conversation, many fans typically jump into a rant about why schools should never pay athletes and that they’re compensated with an education, with the chance to grow as a football player and more. And I agree. I don’t think we should ever get to the point where Universities pay a direct monetary compensation to athletes. It opens up way too many issues. Should all players get paid the same? If so, how does that fix the issue we’re talking about with Manziel? If you can pay players different amounts, then that changes recruiting dramatically. What about non-revenue generating sports? It’s a mess.

The solution is to look to the Olympics.

The Olympics doesn’t pay participants. It simply allows them to get paid. There’s a difference. A difference college sports should welcome with open arms. Don’t make campus athletes university employees. But do let them be like Phelps, appearing in commercials and on the cover of video games, profiting off their fame and image like everyone else in America. Including their coaches. Doing so won’t cost the current college sports industrial complex a penny of the billions it receives for men’s football and basketball broadcast rights; if anything, it will help grow and share the wealth without having to share too much of said wealth. Bruce Jenner’s iconic paid appearance on a Wheaties box was good for the former decathlete and good for his sport; if Brundage’s ghost shed a single Iron Eyes Cody tear at the rank commercialism of it all, well, boo-hoo.

The above quote was from a recent article on the Olympics and how they decided to allow athletes to make money outside the sport while still participating in the Olympics. When you start to consider this type of scenario in the NCAA, it begins to make a lot more sense for college football fans.

The entity preventing such an environment is of course the NCAA. NCAA President Mark Emmert recently talked to ESPN.com on the subject of Johnny Manziel:

“The position of the NCAA has always been that when a student is playing for their university, they are getting the full advantage of being part of that university,” Emmert told ESPN.com. “They are able to build on that popularity, and when they go pro, they are extraordinarily well-positioned to monetize their brand. And why will Johnny Manziel be able to do that? Because he played at Texas A&M and was successful and perhaps won the Heisman.”

“It’s not just that it’s a No. 2 [jersey],” Emmert said. “It’s a Texas A&M No. 2. I can’t parse out the value of the number on one side and the university on the other. They go together. So A&M can enjoy the advantages of having this spectacular athlete play for them, and ticket sales and filling the stands and being on TV more, and then he’s going to go out and play in the NFL and they don’t get anything for that. I could also say, ‘Shouldn’t they have a share having groomed him for the NFL?’”

Plenty to say in reaction to these statements.

First, Emmert is assuming Manziel will have a thriving NFL career, which as we’ve already discussed, is no guarantee.

Next, I would agree with Emmert that part of the value of a Johnny Manziel jersey is the Texas A&M brand and part of the value is Manziel’s name and number. I’d also agree that it’s difficult to assess which party contributes what percentage of value to it. But the jersey itself is such a small part of this discussion. Fine, let’s make anything branded Texas A&M off limits. Enable Manziel to cash in on non-Texas A&M endorsements or products and the problem is solved. Texas A&M still benefits greatly, and Manziel benefits in other ways if those opportunities come.

Lastly, even mentioning the idea that Texas A&M should have a share in his future NFL earnings is so ridiculous that it essentially renders anything he has to say on the topic meaningless.

Manziel is arguably the most marketable individual right now in college football. He’s the equivalent of 2011′s RG3. The difference is that RG3′s meteoric rise in popularity lined up with the timing of his exit from college football and entry into the NFL enabling him to promptly cash in with lucrative endorsements and a second overall selection in the NFL draft. Manziel won’t be eligible to enter the NFL until after the 2013 season.

Setting aside the injury risk, there’s also the risk that SEC defenses adjust to Manziel and his production goes down significantly. The best defensive coaches in the land will have an entire offseason to prepare for Manziel in 2013. We can only speculate on Manziel’s on-field production in 2013, but you can essentially guarantee that the defenses will be more prepared for him next season.

So, it takes us back to the idea of cashing in on the Johnny Football brand now. Not in a year or two. Manziel’s family is seeking to trademark “Johnny Football” in order to protect the brand until they’re free to monetize it, but the problem remains that it’s rather difficult to properly protect a trademark without generating revenue from it. Protecting a trademark means using lawyers to go after other parties that infringe upon it. That requires money.

So, Texas A&M will cash in on the popularity of Johnny Football, and they have every right to. Selling Aggie merchandise and tickets is a part of the game. Unfortunately, Johnny Football himself will have to sit on the sideline as the cash rolls into College Station and hope that his brand is still as valuable when he’s free to benefit from it.

Photo Credit: Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

COMMENTS

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  • I’m not really sure where you are trying to go with the Michael Phelps/Olympics analogy. It doesn’t support your argument at all. The IOC is pretty irrelevant to his ability to accept endorsement deals, since they stopped enforcing and then abandoned the amateurism rules decades ago. He’s a professional swimmer and is more comparable to an NFL player than an NCAAF player. In fact, Phelps forewent his NCAA eligibility, and was not allowed to swim for the University of Michigan’s team, because he chose to accept endorsement deals.

    College athletes who swim in the Olympics are NOT allowed to accept endorsement deals without losing their eligibility. They are allowed to accept a negligible amount of money from the USOC if they win a medal, and they’re taxed heavily on this small amount, which is worth much less than a college scholarship. This is a specific exception for the Olympics – they have to turn down all other prize/endorsement money.

    • It wouldn’t be that way if college athletes were allowed to accept paid endorsements. I don’t know how I feel about this. On one hand they are there to get a degree. Sports is secondary. We all know this isn’t true for everyone. Some players are so good that they are almost guaranteed to make millions in the NFL. Those players don’t need to worry about a degree. I think the NCAA is trying to preserve the “education first, sports second” philosophy. My argument would be that an english major who gets his book published is allowed to profit from the sales. Why should football players not be able to profit from their talent?

      • Sure, I understand that argument, and I think that there are a lot of good points that can be made in favor of it. I just don’t think using Phelps as an example in an argument about endorsements/eligibility really works, because he is someone who specifically chose to give up NCAA eligibility. Apparently I’m in the minority though.

    • The analogy is that the Olympics does not pay the athletes, but they also don’t care if they make money elsewhere. The argument typically is between the idea of a school paying an athlete or not. I’m making the point that schools should not pay athletes, but the NCAA should allow them to make money elsewhere that isn’t related to their school. A person who gets a scholarship for music can make money outside of college. It’s only athletes that aren’t allowed to.

  • Kevin, great article.
    This is hands down the most concise and well developed plan to allow players to get paid while in college without effecting player recruitment. A school can’t promise a Subway (or the like) ad contact just by playing for them, but if they choose to go there independently and Subway decides to offer them one then its great for the player.
    You have definitely changed the way I position myself on whether or not college athletes should be able to get paid or not. This is simply the best way.

    • Another option could be that the school gets half of any endorsement deals while the player is enrolled at the school. This would bring MORE money right now into schools than currently allowed because these endorsement deals don’t happen right now. Companies like EA Sports would love to pay someone like Manziel to market NCAA Football video game.