Johnny Manziel, the biggest star entering this year’s NFL Draft, is coming to an advertisement near you.
And when he appears in commercials sipping Gatorade — or perhaps Powerade, or maybe Muscle Milk — the Heisman quarterback will make his pitch on a contract negotiated by Fenway Sports Management, the marketing arm for the parent company of the Red Sox.
In landing Manziel, who picked up the nickname Johnny Football while starring at Texas A&M, Fenway Sports Management added its most high-profile individual client Tuesday since partnering with basketball icon LeBron James and his marketing company, LRMR Management, in 2011.
Fenway Sports Management and LRMR will represent Manziel jointly, with the goal to help him transcend sports and become a global brand in the mold of James, who has acted as an informal adviser to Johnny Football since he became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, college football’s top honor, in 2012.
Mark Lev, managing director of Fenway Sports Management, said Manziel’s relationship with James facilitated the deal. Bradley Beckworth, an attorney for Manziel, added that the quarterback wants to emulate James’s business success.
For Fenway Sports Management, signing Manziel represents a widening of its portfolio, which is composed mostly of franchises under the Fenway Sports Group umbrella — including the Red Sox, Liverpool Football Club, and Roush Fenway Racing — and companies that advertise with those teams, such as Dunkin’ Donuts, JetBlue Airways, and Gulf Oil.
John W. Henry, principal owner of Fenway Sports Group, also owns The Boston Globe.
In addition, representing Manziel is a chance for Fenway Sports Management to flex its full marketing muscle by building an athlete’s brand from the ground up.
“LeBron was an international sports icon and a global celebrity before we got involved,” said Lev. “Johnny needs to perform on the football field, and that’s really where the focus is now. But providing he does that there’s huge upside for him from a business standpoint.”
Lev added that inking Manziel is not a signal that Fenway Sports Management plans to regularly represent athletes, though the company might pursue relationships with other stars who double as “blue-chip brands.”
Many draft pundits predict that the 21-year-old Manziel, known as a dynamic playmaker on the field and a lightning rod off it, will be among the first players chosen when NFL teams select eligible amateurs in May.
Fenway Sports Management’s work for Manziel will be confined to pursuing off-field business opportunities in the media and entertainment industries, and endorsements. The quarterback has hired separate firms to handle football contract negotiations and public relations.
The firm could prove particularly helpful in promoting Manziel abroad, as it has for James. Fenway Sports Management brokered a deal with Dunkin’ Donuts that made the four-time NBA most valuable player a spokesman for the coffee-and-doughnut chain in Asia, for instance. A business relationship between Liverpool FC and Tencent Holdings, a Chinese company with media subsidiaries, led to James becoming a spokesman for the NBA 2K online video game, Lev added.
Fenway Sports Management receives a commission on deals it negotiates for James, but the Manziel referral exemplified Red Sox chairman Tom Werner’s statement at the outset of the James partnership that “we can open doors for LeBron, and LeBron can open doors for us.”
The opportunity for international exposure is what drew James to collaborate with Fenway Sports Management, the star has said, though he and business partner Maverick Carter had a marketing company of their own. James also received a minority stake in the Liverpool club as part of the 2011 deal.
In its annual ranking of the world’s top-grossing athletes last year, Forbes magazine estimated that James earned $42 million in endorsements — more than twice what he made playing for the Miami Heat — in 2012, his first full year in partnership with Fenway Sports Management.
Manziel has said in interviews that he has leaned on James for guidance, especially during periods of intense scrutiny, such as when he was investigated by the NCAA before last season on suspicion that he accepted impermissible payments for autographing memorabilia. The NCAA found evidence only that Manziel had allowed his name to be used for commercial purposes, a lesser violation, and he was suspended for the first half of one game.
Manziel also has a reputation for socializing, with visits to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and Mexico on spring break documented on social media. Last spring, he closed his Twitter account in an effort to keep his personal life more private.
The challenge for Fenway Sports Management will be to convince companies that the gifted but unpredictable Manziel is a wise choice to represent their brands, said Stephen A. Greyser, a sports marketing specialist at Harvard University.
“The question will be, if you’re a company that’s looking for an endorser, do you want to be ahead of the pack with Johnny Manziel, who may turn out to be a better Tim Tebow but not a big-time star in the NFL?” Greyser said.
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