Holler: Manziel will come with marketing

Johnny Manziel (Joe Robbins/Getty)

Johnny Manziel's "sideshow" isn't about to stop. He already has Nike and McDonalds on the train and more are sure to follow. His pro day was just the start of the marketing of Johnny Football.

This won't be the last time "Johnny Manziel and the Minnesota Vikings" will comprise a six-word cluster. It may be the last time for us for a few days, since we're about "Manzieled out" for the short-term.

But Manziel's pro day Thursday said a lot about the man and his plan. Johnny Football could be the next Joe Namath – a brash kid from a southern college who backs up his tough talk. And, along the way, whether he succeeds or fails, is a marketer's dream.

Robert Griffin III is much more visible in the advertising world than Andrew Luck. Who is the better QB? Luck. Who is making more money? Likely RG3.

Those who saw Manziel's workout may have wondered why he was wearing a uniform that looked like it came from a box intended for the Mean Machine in the original version of The Longest Yard.

It was no mistake. The marketing of Johnny Football began before his pro day. It was cemented Thursday.

If you look closely at the latest McDonald's ad campaign featuring LeBron James, he is being led beyond a mythical velvet rope into the V.I.P. area of the Mickey-D's inner circle, which is surprisingly opulent.

With all of his accomplishments, King James is only now getting into the inner sanctum. Among strolling past a bevy of eye-pleasing women, LeBron encounters Manziel, who briefly strikes a Heisman pose. The Suspension of Belief Department brought that dilemma to the forefront. Manziel is already a club member and LeBron is a newbie?

The image-shaping of Manziel began earlier this month. Thursday cemented that projection.

Dressed in a black jersey, black helmet and camouflage pants, those in attendance were left wondering why he was taking this approach. Pro days for quarterbacks are typically defined by a QB decked out in his college team colors in a home cookin' environment completing roughly 96 percent of his passes.

Is that realistic? No.

Is it part of "The Show?" Certainly.

But, what Manziel's pro day turned into may be the precursor of things to come. As the NFL continues to be the toast of Madison Avenue, the latching on to potential stars increases. In Manhattan, Johnny Football is viewed as pure money.

There wasn't much that made sense about Manziel's attire during his Thursday workout … with one exception. The only thing that made visual sense from a pro day quarterback in a nearly full, yet unfamiliar, uniform, was the iconic Nike swoosh logo on the front of his generic black jersey and not the Texas A&M colors.

What makes that significant is that, if you see any Manziel photos in a Texas A&M jersey, sweats, shorts or socks, you invariably find the Adidas logo. Texas A&M has a deal with Adidas. Johnny Football doesn't.

He hasn't signed a pro football contract yet, but Manziel is already making millions of dollars every step of the way until he puts pen to paper to play in the NFL. Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater may get picked before him, but Manziel is already raising the bar for endorsement deals that will make him rich whether he succeeds or not. Nike is already selling his pro day gear online.

Welcome to the new world of the NFL. Perception and marketability are just as important as where you're drafted. Manziel may be the third QB selected, but no quarterback in the NFL is going to make more money than Manziel – even if he's drafted as the third QB.

He already has Nike and McDonald's on board. Can Coca Cola and Cadillac be far behind?

We still believe if Manziel is available with the eighth pick, the Vikings will take him. But, depending on who calls the shots, they will have to know that Johnny Manziel will come with Johnny Football and Team Manziel. It's clear "his people" are already at work.

The team that drafts Manziel will do so knowing that his marketing machine has already fired up. That may be enough for some organizations to pass. Will the Vikings be one of them?

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer was quoted after Manziel's Pro Day as saying things looked a bit too choreographed and the atmosphere was that of a "sideshow." In pre-draft NFL-speak, that sounds like a glowing recommendation.

Combine what Zimmer said with offensive coordinator Norv Turner's admission that he's intrigued with Tajh Boyd, who is widely viewed as a Day 3 draft pick, and it would seem to be stocking the pond with red herrings a little too full. As the pre-draft subterfuge dials up, believe nothing you hear and only half of what you see.

Manziel has intensified his desire to be a marketing star for the team that drafts him. Some franchises may latch on to that. Others may find their own brand (and the Shield) to be much bigger than an unproven commodity.

We're done talking Johnny Football … for now. He's made sure we can't ignore him (or his people) anymore.


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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