Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=214268
Story Retrieval Date: 4/24/2014 1:14:45 PM CST

Top Stories
Features
MantiTeo

Scott Kitun/ MEDILL

Manti Te'o prepares for Notre Dame's game against Stanford Oct. 13.


Are Manti Te’o’s marketing opportunities sacked?

by Alex Wendlandand Scott Kitun
Jan 17, 2013


Even with the massive controversy – and mystery – surrounding Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and the death of his fake girlfriend, his draft stock and marketing potential may be largely unchanged, according to analysts.

Unlike the NBA, most incoming rookies in the NFL don’t get millions of dollars in pre-draft endorsements.

“In the NFL, you really have to earn it,” said Darren Rovell, a sports business reporter at ESPN.

Rovell estimates that Te’o probably lost between $350,000 and $500,000 in pre-draft endorsements from companies such as Sprint, Subway and Electronic Arts that are traditionally quick to sign athletes. Subway frequently uses athletes to promote its healthy fare and Te’o was one of the leading candidates to grace the cover of the NCAA Football 14 video game.

“Normally, there are pre-draft deals from companies that are aggressive in this space,” Rovell said.

Even if Te’o doesn’t tumble in the NFL draft – he was projected as a top 10 pick by both ESPN and CBSSports.com – his marketing potential is hamstrung, at least in the short term.

“If there were a marketing draft, Manti Te’o was a top 3 pick,” said Darin David, marketing executive at the Marketing Arm. “But now if you were planning to sign Te’o to an endorsement deal, you are going to have to tap the brakes on that.”

Te’o may wind up earning his lost endorsements back, but the damage to his reputation is already too big for teams to ignore, Rovell said.

“The Tiger Woods scandal doesn’t compare, the Lance Armstrong scandal doesn’t compare to this,” he said.

The good news for Te’o is that fans can be both forgetful and forgiving.

“It’s hard to have perspective on those stories, especially in the social media age,” said Dan Lobring, senior director of public relations at Revolution, a Chicago-based sports marketing firm. “Fans, in general, can have a short memory span. It all depends on what he can do on the field, if he apologizes and seeks forgiveness.”

As for Te’o’s draft potential, Andrew Brandt, ESPN NFL business analyst and the director of the sports law department at Villanova, doesn’t believe the scandal will greatly effect Te’o’s selection.

“Obviously talent is most important in draft evaluations but teams will note other issues: medical, issues with drugs, arrests, an agent that's difficult to deal with, etc.,” Brandt said in an email.

Te’o could run into trouble if teams are worried about his mental health. Te’o plays middle linebacker, the leader of the defense. If Te’o’s teammates question his leadership and mental state, they will lose faith in him. Brandt he said doesn’t think Te’o’s reputation is quite that tarnished but it could happen.

“The time may come up when a team is on-the-clock and may have to decide between two players,” Brandt said. “The decision maker may allow this to enter his mind in making a tough call about evenly rated players.”

Like Rovell, Brandt, who was formerly a player agent, said he has never seen anything quite as bizarre as the situation Te’o is in now.

The surprising aspect of the Te’o controversy is that he didn’t have any of those issues prior to this scandal. The trials Te’o overcame, the death of both his grandmother and girlfriend in the same week, were the feel-good story of the college football season. The lore surrounding Te’o was instrumental in his campaign for the Heisman Trophy, where he came in second.

This week, Deadspin.com discovered that his deceased girlfriend did not exist.

“He was less than truthful with the media,” Rovell said. “He didn’t mention that he hadn’t met her. At the very least, he was very dishonest.”

Marketing expert David agrees that harm has been done.

“Maybe Te’o was just an innocent victim in this, but regardless, his story just doesn’t read the same anymore. His marketing value was tied as much to his story as his play.”