Good personality, sense of humor and showmanship all help drive athlete popularity. But the greatest boon when it comes down to it? Winning games.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer is seeing that right now as he has excelled in leading the Browns to a 3-2 start to the season.
On the sidelines stands rookie Johnny Manziel, the Heisman Trophy winner and former college phenom who still has his own hoard of supporters (and endorsement deals).
But with each Hoyer touchdown pass and snap in which Manziel remains a non-entity, is the popularity pendulum swinging?
Hoyer is a hometown kid, growing up in northeast Ohio and playing high school football for local powerhouse St. Ignatius. Hoyer may not be channeling an altering ego while promoting Snickers (as Manziel did), but he is on local airwaves as a spokesperson for sub chain Mr. Hero.
ESPN’s Darren Rovell recently reported on that endorsement deal, with Dan Traci, the owner of an ad firm backing Mr. Hero, saying, "Let’s just say, as Brian and the Browns continue to do well, the deal gets better for us and perhaps less so for him."
Hoyer’s agent Joe Linta told ESPN.com that one potential endorser "said to call back when he’s named the starter."
There’s no doubt that Hoyer is the starter now, completing 60 percent of his passes for 1,224 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception.
Those touchdowns do count when it comes to exposure.
While an array of Johnny Manziel T-shirts flooded the market when the Browns selected Manziel in the first round of this past May’s NFL draft, Hoyer is beginning to catch up.
Local outlet GV Artwork & Design rolled out two Hoyer tees this week, one reading "Brian Cleveland" in all caps and another emblazoned with "Home Grown Hoyer."
Greg Vlosich, one of the designers, told a local news station the shirts already are a hit.
"The city is just looking for something, waiting for the teams to do well, especially the Browns," Vlosich told 19 Action News. "So I think any little bit of excitement is just amplified."
Excitement is an understatement in describing the Browns’ 2014 so far. Before their 31-10 trouncing of the Steelers last week, all four of the Browns’ contests were decided by three points or fewer.
That’s not just one possession — it’s one kick.
One of the three wins came in historic fashion, with Hoyer leading his team back from down 25 points against the Tennessee Titans, the biggest road comeback in NFL history.
Through all of this, Manziel has been on the field just a handful of times, as the offense clicks thanks to an effective ground game and starting quarterback in Hoyer — who is maximizing his opportunities and minimizing mistakes.
For a backup, Manziel remains a cult persona. His jersey sales were still second among NFL players for the last sales period recorded (June 1 to Aug. 31). However, that’s down from the top spot, with Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson taking No. 1.
In total sales of all merchandise, Manziel fell from first to seventh. Remember, too, these numbers reflect a period before the regular season began, during much of which the Browns were still embroiled in a quarterback competition.
Manziel certainly holds mass appeal, but you wonder whether his sales numbers will fall even further for the next period. In Cleveland, the hype around Hoyer is certainly growing.
But with Hoyer’s contract up after this season, the next question becomes which quarterback is here for the long haul? Having two popular options in the fold for the Browns will make that an interesting situation to watch.