Money to be made at every turn

The value of winning the Heisman Trophy extends far beyond the individual who actually picks up the hardware, writes Darren Rovell.

Originally Published: December 9, 2005
By Darren Rovell | ESPN.com

There's a lot of money to be made from Heisman Trophy winners.

Pete Carroll
APThree Pete Carrolls just won't fly in this trademark game.
Just ask those in the athletic department at the University of Southern California, the school that, with a Reggie Bush victory on Saturday night, will have turned out three different winners in the last four years.

Jersey sales of the college greats have always been popular, but this year USC sold women's jerseys featuring Bush's No. 5. And just moments after securing its place in the national championship game, the school was selling replica Bush jerseys featuring the 2006 Rose Bowl patch. All 1,200 sold out in two days. More have been ordered.

School officials realized the insatiable appetite for all things Bush and Matt Leinart, who won the award in 2004, and produced the Web site www.mattreggietv.com this year. More than 5,000 fans logging onto the site have paid $79.95 this season to get behind-the-scenes footage of the stars. The school also has sold hundreds of paintings of Leinart (unframed $289.95, framed $399.95) on its official athletics Web site.

Of course, neither athlete has made a dime off the sales of their name and likeness.

"It's hypocritical for the colleges to be making money off these guys without them getting a cut," said Eric Bechtel, managing director of Rule 1.02 Sports & Entertainment marketing. "At least allow them to collect money in an escrow account so when they are done they can reap the benefits of their work."

NCAA officials say it's perfectly permissible for the school to be doing what it's doing, noting that institutions are allowed to sell items with the names and likenesses of their athletes so long as they are sold in school bookstores or on the school's official Web site and the particular athlete signs a consent form for every different use.

"Matt and Reggie haven't turned down one of our requests," said Jose Eskenazi, USC's associate athletic director for sponsorships and licensing.

Other schools might have left money on the table because they were given another interpretation about the rules. On the Web site for the Oklahoma Sooners, whose running back Adrian Peterson finished second in the voting last year and whose quarterback Jason White won the award in 2003, fans can order customized jerseys, though the stipulation is that NCAA rules don't allow the names of current players.

"You could have called the NCAA yesterday and they would give you one interpretation and then you call them today and they'll give you another one," said OU athletic director Joe Castiglione. "It's not that they are trying to be inconsistent. It just involves a lot of gray area."

Kevin Lennon, the vice president of membership services for the NCAA, said USC currently has the right to sell Bush and Leinart merchandise, but in April 2006 the governing body will review a proposal that will forbid schools from selling these items. If action is taken on that proposal, schools would have to abide by the same rules as apparel producers and retailers outside school property.

This year's Reebok Heisman winner shirts, sold at stores nationwide, feature the USC logo along with "No. 5 Running Back," and "No. 11 Quarterback" instead of the names and faces of Bush and Leinart.

Money made by Heisman winners once they leave school is dependent on a number of factors.

One factor is size of the fan base. The larger the fan base, the more people who potentially want autographs. If Bush wins, he can make plenty of money just signing helmets and footballs for Trojans fans. But not until he decides to turn pro.

A Bush victory would give the Trojans seven all-time Heisman winners, a number equaled only by Notre Dame, which hasn't had a winner since Tim Brown in 1987. Before Leinart won last year, a memorabilia company was selling a USC football (for $499) autographed by all the Heisman winners: Mike Garrett (1965), O.J. Simpson (1968), Charles White (1979), Marcus Allen (1981) and Carson Palmer (2002).

Demand for the autographs of Leinart and Bush have been held in check by the fact that USC hasn't sold any autographed items, aside from a USC/Notre Dame game ball (which sold for $10,300) signed by Leinart and head coach Pete Carroll.

Another important factor is the national attention the player receives throughout the season. That hasn't been a problem for the Trojans, who have a 34-game winning streak. Every one of their games this season has been televised on network or cable television.

[Reggie Bush is] the biggest name to come out since Ricky Williams and maybe even Barry Sanders. He's sensational, exciting and electric.
Bobby Mintz, VP for Tri-Star Productions
Then comes the flair: the player's ability to be featured on highlight reels week after week.

That's a non-issue for Bush, who has rushed for 1,658 yards, scored 18 touchdowns (not to mention his stats for receiving and kick returns) and seemingly has the potential for a Heisman moment every time he touches the ball.

"He's the biggest name to come out since Ricky Williams [1998] and maybe even Barry Sanders [1989]," said Bobby Mintz, vice president of operations for Tri-Star Productions. "He's sensational, exciting and electric."

Other factors that affect a Heisman winner's ability to collect on the award include how well he did in his pro career and perhaps the team on which he played, Mintz said.

"The Heisman collecting industry is a multimillion-dollar industry," Mintz said. "And, for some of these guys, it has provided them an income stream for a lifetime that they would never have had if they didn't win the award."

Case in point, at a memorabilia show next week in Marlborough, Mass., Mintz will have 1960 winner Joe Bellino of Navy sitting at a table with other Heisman winners, including Billy Cannon (LSU, 1959) and Herschel Walker (Georgia, 1982).

Bellino's pro career with the Boston Patriots of the AFL lasted three years. He rushed 30 times for 64 yards and caught a touchdown.

Said Mintz: "If he didn't win the Heisman, I would never call Joe Bellino."

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.rovell@espn3.com.

Darren Rovell | email

ESPN.com Sports Business reporter