- Darren Rovell, ESPN.com Sports Business reporter
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Texas A&M redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel is turning heads.
In nine games, he has thrown for more than 2,500 yards and for 16 touchdowns and is closing in on 1,000 rushing yards.
Manziel, who has taken to the nickname of "Johnny Football," has the team at an impressive 7-2 in the Aggies' first year in the SEC.
But look through the stands at games when the Aggies are playing and you won't see Manziel's No. 2 jersey. It will be hitting retail for the first time this Monday.
You see, the truth is that, despite tremendous demand, when a college star comes out of nowhere, it's hard to cash in immediately at retail.
In February 2012, the school was asked to give the numbers of its biggest stars to adidas. After discussing it with retailers, adidas decided to make just two numbers this season for fan jerseys -- No. 1, which is standard at many schools, and No. 12, associated with the school's famous 12th Man. The numbers are decided so far in advance so companies such as adidas can manufacture the jerseys in a place where they can get the best price and can ship them at a price that allows the companies to achieve the greatest margins. And although the world feels smaller than ever, big shipping boats aren't moving fast enough.
That means that when a college player all of a sudden achieves stardom, it's not a quick turnaround.
Because so much is done overseas, the only way to capitalize quickly is to have blank jerseys, which can be customized in the United States. Adidas owns a tremendous warehouse in Indianapolis that is equipped to do this, but the company didn't have any maroon jersey blanks that had the two stripes on the side like this year's jersey has, according to Shane Hinckley, the assistant vice president of business development in the Aggies' athletics department.
Within weeks, Texas A&M and adidas did the only thing they could do: produce thousands of No. 2 jersey T-shirts, which predictably have sold well.
Hinckley says he isn't concerned about Manziel's jersey number hitting stores so late in the season because the player is young and has plenty of years left. There's another factor very few fans realize: Jersey sales make up only about 1 percent of total athletic department merchandise royalties, Hinckley said.
"Jerseys are still very important to us because it's the product that stands out the most," Hinckley said. "It's great branding for us."
The future of merchandising might be for schools and teams to ask fans how badly they want an item such as this and to take preorders at prices based on how soon they can get it. For example, if Aggies fans decided they wanted to get the No. 2 jersey faster, they could be asked by the team how much they are willing to pay. Bulk on-demand ordering could reduce the premium of having the jerseys flown in and still allow companies such as adidas to make their same margins.
Per NCAA rules, Manziel is not allowed to take a piece of the action. For its part, A&M cannot use the nickname "Johnny Football" on its gear. Hinckley said the school has sent eight cease-and-desist letters over the past two weeks to those who tried to sell items with his nickname on their merchandise. Earlier this month, a firm located in College Station called Kenneth R. Reynolds Family Investments filed for the trademark to "Johnny Football."
A lawyer listed on the trademark filing didn't immediately return a call seeking comment. There is a Kenneth "Rusty" Reynolds, who, in his obituary from March, is listed as having been an endowed donor to Aggies sponsors since 1982. A Kenneth R. Reynolds II is listed as the general partner of the family investment firm, although it's not clear that there is a connection between the two men.