Keeping Score

For CBS, ‘Johnny Cam’ Drives the Manziel Mania

During Saturday's ridiculously hyped showdown between No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Texas A&M, one camera will record Johnny Manziel's every move. Please, let's not complain about it

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Bob Levey / Getty Images

Johnny Manziel of the Texas A&M Aggies during game action against Sam Houston State at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas, on Sept. 7, 2013

I suppose it was inevitable. As Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M take on Alabama on Saturday in the most hyped spectacle of the new season, the network broadcasting the game is going all out to maximize the coverage of college football’s most marketable, and controversial, star. As reported, CBS will add an extra camera devoted solely to capturing every movement of the defending Heisman Trophy champion during the game; every exhortation, every sip of water, every potential air-autograph and cash-money gesture.

If you think this is going a little overboard, you’re certainly not alone. Manziel’s coach, Kevin Sumlin, agrees. “I just don’t understand why there’s got to be one guy singled out and put a camera on all the time,” Sumlin said during a Tuesday news conference. “That’s not what we’re about, that’s not what we’re trying to promote and, certainly, from my standpoint all the criticism about individualism on the football team, I don’t think this helps enhance the team concept one bit.”

Sumlin should keep in mind that CBS is paying the Southeastern Conference a reported $55 million a year, through 2023–24, to broadcast games like Alabama-A&M. So if the network wants to stick a camera in the hotdog stand or the huddle, he’d better count on dealing with it. To Harold Bryant, executive producer and vice president of production for CBS Sports, Manziel justifies the attention. “It’s like Joe Namath,” Bryant says. “Everyone likes a little swagger. He’s a Heisman Trophy guy, people have very high expectations, and we all want to see how well he does.” Bryant notes that though the camera will focus on Manziel the whole game, CBS won’t be broadcasting his every move. “The camera is not being streamed online,” says Bryant. “It’s not a two-box with him in the corner. This is just to add a little bit more pageantry, color, texture, flavor.”

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The camera will be positioned in one corner of Kyle Field, opposite the A&M sideline. “We call it the ‘slash’ position because it’s not head-on with the field,” says Bryant. “It’s kind of slashing the field.” CBS normally brings 16 cameras to its college-football broadcasts: “Johnny Cam” is No. 17. Bryant, who has worked at the network since 1997, couldn’t entirely recall the last time CBS devoted a single camera to one athlete. “At a Super Bowl, we might do something along those lines,” says Bryant. “During the regular season, we might have a camera dedicated to two or three players. So is this the first time? It’s probably the first time in a while that we’ve dedicated one camera to one guy. I’m pretty sure that during the Peyton Manning era at Tennessee, we probably did something along those lines. I don’t remember if we did it for Cam [Newton]?”

What about for Tim Tebow at Florida? “We watched Tebow a lot,” says Bryant. “I won’t say we had one specific camera.”

Sure, America needs no more saturation coverage of Manziel. It’s easy to chastise the network for sending the wrong message with the Johnny Cam: that one player is above it all and special and has good reason to have a swollen ego and sense of entitlement. But that type of reaction misses the point. Manziel’s ego was swollen long before any network blanketed him with a camera during a game. Look no further than his antics against Rice University two weeks ago. And these inflated egos, by the way, often drive the competitiveness and great athleticism that millions of Americans value so highly.

But the Johnny Cam is pure business. In trying to recoup cost through high ratings and advertising dollars, CBS has every reason to put its cameras anywhere, and everywhere, it needs to. Manziel is a polarizing cultural figure. He draws eyeballs, even those of casual fans.

Sumlin, for one, benefits from the big business of college sports: he got a $1.1 million raise this off-season, after Manziel took home the Heisman (Sumlin now makes $3.1 million a year). Few fans are tuning in to see some ephemeral “team concept” that Sumlin thinks should be enhanced. Sure, they want to see good teams, but they want individual brilliance too. They want a Manziel thrill ride. They want the spread covered.

They want a show, whether a camera is trailing Johnny Football or not.

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