By Greg Bates
Johnny Manziel sported his signature, million-dollar smile and flashed his patented money sign as he walked across the stage at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
“Johnny Football” had arrived to the glitz and glamour that is the National Football League.
The No. 22 overall pick in May’s draft by the Cleveland Browns is cashing in on the talent he prominently displayed while at Texas A&M University.
Card shops and merchandise stores are cashing in on Manziel, too.
Right after Manziel was selected in the first round, his products were hotter than an August afternoon in Texas. Fans and collectors nationwide flocked to card shops and merchandise stores to get their hands on anything that had Manziel’s name on it. Anything.
“They were looking for stuff before we even drafted him, but it’s even hotter now,” said B & B Sports Cards owner Robert Prunty.
“Manzielmania” has hit Cleveland. Prunty is experiencing the aftershock.
“It can’t hurt. It’s going to help my business,” Prunty said. “There’s a lot of people jumping on the bandwagon. Every card shop in the Cleveland area should benefit from Johnny Manziel.”
One day after the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner was taken by Cleveland, the Browns’ Team Shop at FirstEnergy Stadium was bombarded with customers. Manziel jerseys were flying off the shelf quicker than employees could stock them. The demand online was just as strong.
According to data from NFLShop.com, Manziel’s No. 2 Browns jersey has been the No. 1 seller since April 1. That’s more sales than the likes of Russell Wilson, Peyton Manning, Colin Kaepernick and Tom Brady.
Over the four-day draft weekend, Thursday through Sunday, NFLShop.com sold nearly as many Manziel jerseys as Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Tim Tebow jerseys combined from their draft weekend in 2012.
“Johnny Football” – whose nickname is actually trademarked – maybe should be known as the “Money Man.” In April, Manziel inked an exclusive deal with Panini Authentic to autograph footballs, helmets and jerseys.
“It’s unbelievable,” Houston Sports Connection owner Howard Lau said. “His stuff is selling and it’s unbelievable.”
Lau, who opened his card shop 27 years ago, has been riding on the coattails of Manziel’s success ever since the quarterback took the college football landscape by storm as a freshman. With College Station, where Texas A&M is located, and Kerrville, Manziel’s hometown, both within about 250 miles of Lau’s shop, interest has been widespread for two years since Manziel helped the Aggies upset top-ranked Alabama.
“Definitely Johnny Manziel has been a shot in the arm in terms of getting people interested,” Lau said.
There has been a steady stream of rabid fans and collectors stopping in to Lau’s business looking for Manziel merchandise.
“When people come in and you talk to them, ‘Who should I buy? Johnny.’ His name always comes up,” Lau said. “Between him and J.J. Watt are the two most popular in the store.”
Lau tries to keep as much Manziel product on hand as possible. Currently, he has jerseys, football helmets and 8-by-10 photos in stock. Manziel’s autographed merchandise has also been leaving the shelves quickly.
“He’s what everybody wants right now, without a doubt,” said RbiCru7 Sports Cards & Collectibles owner Ryan Bannister said.
However, in Bannister’s shop located just outside of St. Louis in Florissant, Mo., demand for Manziel is minimal. Instead, Bannister is getting a lot requests for items from St. Louis Rams seventh-round pick Michael Sam. The first openly gay NFL draft pick has local ties since he played at the University of Missouri.
Bannister believes that Manziel’s merchandise and cards will take a slight hit just because of the team he plays for. The Browns have been a lowly franchise for a number years, and Cleveland isn’t nearly the largest franchise market in the country.
“I was kind hoping he would go to Dallas because if that would have happened, his cards would have been twice the value they are now, without a doubt,” Bannister said. “You put that star on, you’ve got a fan base behind you.”
Lau has the same thought in Texas.
“Getting drafted was a bit disappointing for most Aggie fans,” Lau said. “If he would have gotten drafted by the Cowboys, it might have given another shot in the arm. But being drafted by the Cleveland Browns with the 22nd pick, it’s kind of a letdown. But Johnny Manziel is going to sell because of his charisma, his personality. He’s just going to sell, and that’s the way it is. Fans love him.”
Manziel cards are at a premium
While Manziel merchandise has been all the craze, his football cards haven’t hit full steam yet.
The only products currently out for Manziel are Upper Deck, Leaf, Press Pass and Sage. Topps, Bowman, Panini and Score are expected to release their lines in the next couple months.
“Customers are probably going to want his stuff when he’s actually in a Browns uniform, which would be Topps and other stuff,” Bannister said.
The value for Manziel cards haven’t been set in price guides yet, so the going rate for Manziel is really a broad range depending on where the card shops are located.
In Houston, Lau is selling Manziel Upper Deck base cards for $15. Prunty is charging $10 in Cleveland for the same card. Bannister has Manziel Press Pass and Sage cards going for $3 to $5 at his shop.
Prunty doesn’t have many Manziel single cards in stock right now, just some wax boxes. He’s planning on picking up more Manziel products, but he’s reluctant.
“I’m not going to go too crazy,” Prunty said. “Same thing happened in 1999 with Tim Couch.”
Card collectors know how the “Couch Project” panned out in Cleveland.
Prunty still has a ton of 1999 wax packs in his inventory. He isn’t too interested in collecting a player who could be another Browns first-round bust.
Lau is stocking up on Manziel cards. He knows whatever he can get his hands on will be sold quickly.
When every card company releases its product, Lau believes Manziel base cards are going to start high, roughly $15.
“I see it staying around there,” Lau said. “Look at some Andrew Luck, even the base product like Topps. It may be a little bit high right now because there’s not much of it out there, but it will probably be listed at $10 to $15.”
“I would think they should come out at at least $10 or more,” Prunty said. “I’m not going to charge over book even if a card is $50 because we’re in Cleveland. Even when LeBron James was here I never charged over book on any of his products.”
Lau thinks Manziel’s signed rookie cards are going to be a hot commodity. Lau anticipates Manziel autographs will go for a minimum of $100. For the cards that are numbered, such as 1-of-25 or 1-of-1, the figures could skyrocket.
“I’ll think they’ll buy just about anything if you have it, especially if he gets to play,” Prunty said.
If is the operative word – if he gets to play. Manziel isn’t automatically the Browns starting quarterback just because of his celebrity status. He’ll be battling incumbent Brian Hoyer for the job.
“I think it could get hotter,” said Prunty about Manziel cards. “We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”
Some card shop owners have that wait-and-see mentality before investing too much money on Manziel products.
“His performance will dictate his value,” Bannister said. “If he comes out and he’s kicking butt, oh, man, his stuff’s going to keep going up week after week after week.”
Greg Bates is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at email@example.com.