Cleveland's new big-money sports hero isn't LeBron

Johnny Football is trying to give LeBron James a run for his money in Cleveland. Former Texas A&M Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, who was drafted by the Cleveland Browns, will make his first official start on Sunday, and ticket prices are jumping.

Cleveland Browns’ quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) lines up under the center during a game against the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y., Nov. 30, 2014.
Nick Cammett | Diamond Images | Getty Images
Cleveland Browns’ quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) lines up under the center during a game against the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y., Nov. 30, 2014.

The team announced on Tuesday that the rookie quarterback will start over veteran Brian Hoyer, who has been the team's starter all season and led Cleveland to a 7-6 record, fourth in the AFC North Division.

Since the announcement, tickets on the secondary market are up 46 percent; the average price for a ticket to see the Browns play the Cincinnati Bengals went from $123.73 to $181.5, according to secondary ticket aggregator TiqIQ.

The get-in price — the minimum price available — rose 70 percent from $37 to $63 for Sunday's game.

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"This is not only one of the biggest events in Browns history, but it has a lot of potential impact on next season's ticket prices," says Jesse Lawrence, CEO of TiqIQ.

The most-hyped quarterback of 2014 has brought both Cleveland and the Browns football organization into the spotlight. Ticket sales skyrocketed for the Browns after the team selected Manziel as 22nd pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Since August, the Browns say they have sold out every game. Overall, ticket prices on the secondary market are up 56 percent compared with this time last year, according to TiqIQ.

It's not a bad showing for a team that hasn't won a playoff game since 1994 or won more than five games since 2007.

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TiqIQ says the Browns currently rank 22nd in the league in average home price, compared with 31st last year, and ticket inventory is down about 29 percent year over year. Lawrence said he expects that number to rise dramatically if Manziel can live up to the hype.

"If he continues to deliver, you could see prices for Brown tickets get into the top 10 next year," he said.

So how does "Manziel Mania" compare to Cleveland's king of the courts, LeBron James? In short, it doesn't. TiqIQ said the average Cavaliers ticket price was up more than 1,000 percent, with an average price of $831.40 as the NBA franchise's season started.

"They are different beasts," Lawrence said. LeBron is a proven winner, and with Manziel, it's about excitement and being competitive," he said.

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Fanatics, the largest online retailer of licensed team merchandise, is seeing sales spike, as well. Manziel merchandise has been selling well all week with a pop on Tuesday after the announcement. Overall, sales are up 15 percent. Manziel's jersey ranks just outside the top-10 selling jerseys.

Those are impressive numbers for an NFL rookie, but again, they're nowhere near the impact the Cavs are seeing from LeBron James, whose jersey sales were up more than 700 percent before his first game this season.

According to the Dick's Sporting Goods Jersey Report, Manziel is the No. 1 rookie jersey this season, and the No. 3 NFL jersey overall.

Johnny Football will also likely have an effect on upcoming TV ratings. In August, when Manziel made his debut in the Browns-Lions preseason game, it was the most-watched preseason game ever on NFL Network with 2.82 million viewers. Sunday's game will be broadcast on News Corp.'s Fox, and CBS will broadcast the remaining two games.

The biggest winner may be the city of Cleveland. The Rust Belt City has been reinvigorated of late, and businesses are thriving after gaining two of the biggest names in sports.

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"To put it in perspective, we are pretty much double in sales (over) last winter," said Colin Evans, kitchen manager at Cleveland downtown sports bar City Tap.

A spokesperson for Mayor Frank Jackson told CNBC that the sports buzz has been great for the city.

"These opportunities mean that the rest of the world will have an opportunity to experience the wonderful and world-class amenities and businesses that downtown Cleveland has to offer," he said.

Now the only question is: can Johnny Football deliver?