The Marketing of Johnny Football

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A few weeks ago, we covered the making of Johnny Football (born Johnny Manziel) – and for good reason. On Saturday, Manziel became the first freshman in the history of college football to win the Heisman Trophy. If he keeps at this pace, Manziel could potentially end up in the upper tier of sports marketing strategies. Below are three aspects that will influence the future of Johnny Football:

The Nickname

There’s no better marketing story than being named after the sport one plays. Being a high school quarterback from Texas only feeds into the moniker. And beating the #1 ranked team in the country on national TV introduced many to Johnny Football; winning the Heisman in historic fashion cemented his place in college football lore. It’s safe to say he’s done all he possibly could on the field in his freshman season.

On the other hand, Manziel cannot make any money off “Johnny Football” as per NCAA rule. Texas A&M cannot sell gear with Manziel’s name on it, but it can sell jerseys or shirts with his number (#2). Manziel’s family is in the process of trademarking “Johnny Football”, to use the nickname once he’s graduated. One can only predict that the “Johnny Football” brand will be lucrative if and when he’s drafted in the NFL (he has at least two years remaining). Tim Tebow is an interesting comparison – he was the most recognizable player while playing at Florida. While he remains a marketable athlete, he has struggled at the NFL level. Two years is a long time for any athlete. But then again, he did present a “Top 10” on Letterman:

The Texas A&M/SEC Marketing Machine

College football programs often use unusual tactics to promote their candidate for Heisman. The seeds of Manziel’s Heisman victory could be traced to A&M jumping to the SEC Conference in the offseason. The SEC calls its own shots; it is the most influential football conference in the nation. Being in the SEC added much to Manziel and A&M’s marketing muscle. The SEC association took on a life of its own.

A&M took out a full length billboard ad in Times Square to commemorate the win:

The College Future

Marketability is often measured by wins and losses on the field. There are reasons for optimism here. A&M, lead by highly respected coach Kevin Sumlin, went 10-2 this season. Their dynamic offense averaged 44 points a game on 552 yards. Manziel broke Cam Newton’s single season total offense record with 4600 yards. Yet the SEC is the best football conference in the nation. Manziel will continue to see top defenses in LSU, Florida, and Alabama on a yearly basis.

A freshman quarterback coming out to surprise college football is a great story, but expectations will be high next season as people will have BCS dreams with Manziel running the team. Football is perhaps the ultimate team sport, after all, but if A&M struggles, even if it isn’t Manziel’s fault, he will be blamed.

Or, the next two seasons could create the next NFL superstar.

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