Whether Johnny "Football" Manziel, Collin "Optimus" Klein or "Heis-Manti" Te'o brings home the most famous award in college football Saturday night, know this -- there’s a lot of money on the line. That’s even if the winner doesn’t go on to have a stellar career after winning the Heisman Trophy.
Thanks to NCAA rules, the school is the first beneficiary of a Heisman windfall. Campaigning is in full swing at Kansas State, Notre Dame and Texas A&M, where the home of the 12th man has made a late-stage push for Manziel -- reminding fans online that the redshirt freshman would actually be older than Mark Ingram when he won his Heisman. So there.
Schools and their donors spend thousands of dollars pushing their candidate to the Heisman voters -- often unsuccessfully. USC, for instance, debuted a smartphone app over the summer pushing Matt Barkley, while boosters at Oregon famously spent $250,000 on a Joey Harrington billboard in 2001.
On the other hand, Baylor spent almost $10,000 last year promoting Robert Griffin III on trading cards sent to the media, and has been laughing its way to the bank since.
According to Baylor, Griffin’s Heisman win has resulted in a 10 percent rise in giving to the Bear Foundation, while licensing royalties -- the take the school makes on stuff it sells with the Baylor brand on it -- are up more than 50 percent. Baylor athletics has set a Web traffic record and, most importantly, plans for a new $250 million stadium were finalized soon after Griffin’s Heisman win.
“We were still beating the trees for donors and money, and as soon as [the Heisman win] happened, we finalized all our plans” for the stadium, says Heath Nielsen, assistant athletics director at Baylor.
In terms of media exposure, media measurement company General Sentiment says Baylor earned the equivalent of $14 million more in media mentions in the month that RG3 won the Heisman. That’s publicity you can’t buy -- unless you want to spend $14 million.
All told, Baylor estimates the Heisman win was worth $250 million in extra donations, increased ticket sales, licensing fees, sponsorship deals, an expanded deal with Fox Sports Southwest, and higher corn dog sales.
“Old-timers here have said winning the Heisman was the biggest moment in Baylor’s history,” Nielsen said.
So we know how the schools are rewarded -- but what about the players? When do they cash in? If you win the Heisman, are you set for life even if you don’t have an amazing football career afterward?
Andre Ware, the 1989 winner, was blunt -- no.
“Not at all,” Ware said from his home in Houston. “It provides you with some financial stability, and it opens a tremendous number of doors.” But, he said, it’s up to the player to make the most of those opportunities.
Jeff Rosenberg, whose company Tristar Productions promotes athlete autograph shows, says the first year after winning the Heisman is a bonanza for an athlete’s business; after RG3 signed with Tristar, he charged more than $100 per signature. That's in addition to any endorsement deals a winner might nab that first year, not to mention his contract (in Griffin’s case, as a first-round draft pick – No. 2 overall).
Farther down the road, the demand takes a turn south -- Ware charges $44 per autograph, and he does just a couple of shows a year.
“They are set up financially, but they’re not what I would call set up financially for life,” Rosenberg said. “They’re making tens of thousands per year, not hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.”
Heisman winners can’t make a living off autographs alone. Ben Litvin -- who works with Heisman winners such as Rashaan Salaam, Eddie George and Ron Dayne -- estimates a Heisman winner like Salaam can pull down about $50,000 a year from three to four autograph sittings a year, three to four corporate appearances a year, two to three paid golf appearances per year, and three speeches.
So, they’re not necessarily set for life -- but it’s not bad work if you can get it.
“Growing up you only dream of being paid for having someone want your autograph," Ware said. "When you sit back and look at it, it’s pretty outrageous.”