CFL QB Johnny Manziel ‘Very Selective’ Now With Marketing, Gains Media Experience With Barstool Partnership

It’s ‘ComebackSZN’ for Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback Johnny Manziel as the Heisman winner begins his first campaign North of the border. Yet, his return to starring in commercials — like his abbreviated appearance in a McDonald’s advertisement leading up to the 2014 NFL Draft — may be coming at a more calculated rate despite at one time having “limitless marketing upside.”

“We’re going to continue to be very selective with respect to Johnny’s off-the-field partners as he approaches his first season in the CFL,” wrote Erik Burkhardt, NFL agent and Co-Head of Select Sports Group, in an email to Sports Business Chronicle last week. “We’re playing the long game and not interested in one-offs unless it makes sense around his media goals and could lead to larger partnerships down the road.”

The 25-year-old Manziel has held prior marketing arrangements with the likes of Snickers, sports nutrition company MusclePharm, Nissan and Nike.

With Manziel’s first playing time in a CFL regular season game still looming, Burkhardt explained that he and his colleagues have been “very conservative” as they vet endorsements and appearance offers, some of which have presented themselves following Manziel’s partnership with media company Barstool Sports; Burkhardt declined to name any company specifically or what a timeline could potentially be on any new formal business relationships.

Added Burkhardt: “This Barstool partnership has led to many more sponsorship and endorsement opportunities for Johnny because brands are beginning to understand that the podcast medium is exploding and has a very loyal and growing audience.”

On May 19, the same day Manziel announced his signing with the Tiger-Cats, he released a video stating he was partnering with the polarizing brand around a weekly podcast with co-hosts Burkhardt and Barstool personality Kayce Smith. ‘ComebackSZN’ will feature conversations about college football and the NFL, pop culture, shedding light on the highs and lows of Manziel’s career and navigating life in the CFL.

For example, on Tuesday’s first installment of the ComebackSZN podcast, Manziel shared a brief anecdote on his initial journey into Canada with the Tiger-Cats and how he held roughly $25,000 in cash, forcing border officials to hold him for a few hours while he gained access to a work permit.

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Said Manziel in May: “It’s a been a long time in the works. Me and Prez (Founder Dave Portnoy) have been working this out for a while, and I’m very happy to be able to do it. We’re doing a ComebackSZN podcast that you guys will be able to subscribe to. It’s me, Kayce Smith and Erik Burkhardt, my agent. We did a little rundown before the draft giving you a little taste and a preview into what we were doing. I think it’ll be great. We’re going to talk about all things sports, all things that are going on and keep it fun and keep it light. I think we’re going to have a bunch of special guests, a bunch of people come on the show. I definitely think it’s something worth checking out.”

Burkhardt commented that with Manziel having a regular podcast instead of a weekly radio show, it “allows him to be himself with partners who have an incredibly like-minded audience.”

“It also is an opportunity for Johnny to get some experience on the media side and break down football, which he loves to do,” he said of ComebackSZN, which is the No. 11 podcast in the “Sports & Recreation” section of the iTunes Store.

While Burkhardt emphatically stated that Manziel’s No. 1 goal right now is helping Hamilton win a CFL Grey Cup, he did say that Manziel’s been interested in media and broadcasting for a while. Over the past few years, he said, Select Sports Group has had conversations with media networks on Manziel’s behalf to begin cultivating potential opportunities away from the gridiron. As Burkhardt described, sitting with Manziel and watching a football game is “really fascinating.”

“He’ll break down every coverage look and start spouting out the coverage-beaters and/or what the quarterback and play-caller are trying to accomplish and then adjustments being made by both sides,” Burkhardt said. “He’s incredibly cerebral and sees everything and also can articulate it very well.”

He continued: “Johnny seriously has a photographic memory and can tell you exactly what happened on a play from the preseason of his rookie year with the Browns. Or a college game from his freshman year (at Texas A&M). It’s wild and really cool to hear. Plus, he’s just naturally funny, yet direct, which is why I think he’ll be a natural fit as a broadcaster when he’s ready to go that route.”

In addition, Burkhardt and Barstool’s advertising team, led by Chief Revenue Officer Deirdre Lester, are currently vetting potential ComebackSZN sponsors.

“With Barstool’s reach, viewership, and built-in media content capabilities, companies understand that Johnny’s podcast is a gigantic opportunity for them to reach millions of strategic customers without all the back-end production costs and hassles associated with doing traditional endorsement deals with an athlete,” Burkhardt said.

About Mark J. Burns

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