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Michael Sam’s Jersey Sales Show Gay Player’s Ability to Endorse

May 13 (Bloomberg) -- Michael Sam’s jersey is the No. 2 seller among National Football League rookies, which may persuade companies to sign endorsement accords with the first openly gay player to be picked in the league’s draft.

“Every firm wanted to take a wait-and-see approach,” said Cameron Weiss, who represents the defensive end. “Now we have waited and are seeing.”

Sam, the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year from the University of Missouri, was selected in the seventh and final round of the draft three days ago by the St. Louis Rams. Sam already has signed an endorsement agreement with Visa Inc., which is also an NFL sponsor.

The only draft pick with higher jersey sales is former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel, who was selected 48 hours earlier by the Cleveland Browns in the first round of the draft on May 8. Manziel won the Heisman Trophy, given annually to the best college football player, in 2012.

“If you look at the time, and the fact that he’s already in the top five, that’s instant clout,” Weiss said yesterday in a telephone interview.

Rounding out the top five sellers are Houston Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who was the No. 1 pick in the draft; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the final pick of the first round, and the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Blake Bortles, the first quarterback selected at No. 3.

Fanatics Sales

Fanatics Inc. said the top three rookie sellers are the same across its network of websites, which includes Fanatics.com and the online stores for the NFL, Browns and Rams.

Sales of jerseys at various price points are based on figures at NFLShop.com, the league’s official online store, according to NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy. He wouldn’t disclose specific sales figures.

Nike Inc., which counts Brooklyn Nets forward Jason Collins, the first openly gay player in the four major U.S. sports as an endorser, is the NFL’s official jersey supplier.

The buying power of the adult U.S. lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population was $830 billion last year, according to Bob Witeck, a gay-marketing strategist and corporate consultant.

The online store sold as many Manziel No. 2 jerseys throughout the draft as it sold Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Tim Tebow jerseys during their respective drafts combined, McCarthy said.

Manziel has applied to trademark “Johnny Football,” his nickname, which is emblazoned on T-shirts also being sold at the NFL’s official online store.

Weiss said he’s evaluating endorsement offers to Sam, declining to give a timetable for his client to sign them. His jersey sales figures should convert any naysayers, Weiss said.

“There are people who are definitely skeptical what sort of tangible impact there would be in the marketplace,” Weiss said. “This sort of answers that question. It’s a finger to the wind test of what Mike’s marketability looks like.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Scott Soshnick in New York at ssoshnick@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net Jay Beberman, Dex McLuskey

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