Are Manti Te’o’s marketing opportunities sacked?

Scott Kitun/The Medillian

Scott Kitun/The Medillian

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 is 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.”

Travel basketball circuits pulling away from local teams

Scott Kitun/The Medillian

Scott Kitun/The Medillian

From the time they were grade school children, the Mache twins Michael and Matthew, wanted to play NCAA Division I college basketball.

The two boys trained five hours per day preparing for their high school season. With the ultimate objective of attracting the attention of their favorite college coach, Coach K, Duke University head coach, Mike Krzyzewski.

“We really didn’t understand how recruiting worked early on. We just thought, one day we would look up into the stands and there he’d be,” said Michael Mache, the all-time scoring leader at Glenbard West High School.

Coach K never appeared and early on, not many other coaches did either. The Mache twins failed to understand that in order to be recruited by a major college basketball program, they must first play in front of them.

“When you play on a school team or AAU team, unless you make it to nationals, you have almost no chance to play in front of coaches, unless you play in a basketball hotbed,” said Michael Mache. “I mean, think about it, it’s too localized.”

In years past, just playing on your school team or an Amateur Athletic Union team could get you noticed. But not now. These days, anyone hoping to play NCAA Division I basketball joins the “Travel Circuit,” which provides high-profile sponsored events that are well-attended by college coaches.

The Mache brothers did exactly that, joining Chicago Old School, a Northwest Side team playing on the travel circuit.

Travel teams such as the Chicago Old School assemble top players and through sponsorships by companies like Nike, Under Armour and Adidas, teams are able to travel nationwide to compete against other top players in what are called, “camps.”

“We thought we were doing something wrong. Nobody was at our games until a we played against Crete High School’s star Michael Orris [now at Kansas State University],” Matthew Mache said.

“Michael [Orris] told us that we needed to call this guy from the Chicago Old School and that was our introduction into the recruiting world.”

Once the Mache twins got recruited by and began playing for the Chicago Old School, they immediately began to get attention from Division I coaches, such as University of Pennsylvania head coach Jerome Allen and others.

They still played on their AAU and high school teams, but their emphasis and preparation soon switched gears from preparing for conference games to preparing for offseason camps.

“The whole point of offseason teams for high school players is to enhance their skills and increase visibility. Chicago Old School does everything we can to give our players the best chance to play at the next level,” Chicago Old School coach, Scott Lidskins, said.

“It was a real shame to see our best players missing games to be with their other teams,” coach Dacanay says. “It’s just how the recruiting trail works these days. You can hardly blame a kid for trying to get free schooling.”

Michael Mache added, “We loved playing for our local teams and played to win, but we wanted college scholarships and that meant we had to skip games to be at camps.”

Visibility has become the most important part of college recruiting for individual players, but many high school coaches, like former Glenbard South head coach Dave Lohrke, expressed concerns about whether the players are losing skill development and team orientation.

“I think the kids are spending all of this time learning how to stand out, but winning at the highest levels is all about blending in [to your team],” Coach Lohrke said.

Local AAU and high school teams aren’t likely to disappear because they still offer the initial launching pad for players to establish themselves. However, the growth of private travel teams is predicated upon player visibility and that is currently the biggest factor in recruitment.

And “Unless the school and AAU teams expand their reach, I think you might start to see the top players pulling out to attend camps,” said Matthew Mache who with his brother Michael is now playing on the scout team at Marquette University.”

Crab cakes and football

Hold your criticism Big Ten fans. This week when Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany announced the addition of Rutgers and Maryland to the conference, there was an immediate backlash across the Twitter universe.

The general sentiment being that while conferences such as the SEC are adding championship caliber teams like Texas A&M to their conference roster, the Big Ten doesn’t seem to be adding much with their recent additions.

The fact is, most Big Ten fans were hoping for a Notre Dame-like team, if any, was to be added to the conference.

There is no question that the Big Ten Conference is feeling a pinch as the top tier teams are defecting for the SEC. Delany is doing everything he can to avoid falling into the same traps that the Big East Conference did.

That means strategically selecting teams to bolster the conference roster and not just grabbing defectors on the cheap, as the Big East has done.

Delany is very attuned to the conference building process. After having seen the Big East crumble, despite having numerous championship level basketball teams and great mid-level talent across the conference, it wasn’t enough.

To be a competitive college conference in the future, you must have strong football teams with at least two powerhouse teams, like Southern Cal and Oregon or Alabama and Louisiana State.

Undoubtedly, the Big Ten will always hang its collective hat on the University of Michigan, one of the most profitable athletic programs in the country.

Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State also contribute a lot to the conference but more is needed if the conference wants to continue to compete for titles and media dollars.

Conference commissioner Delany is not going to admit that the major contributing factor to adding Rutgers is the East Coast media shares. Obviously, football and basketball championships aren’t exactly selling points for Rutgers.

College fans do not want to hear about media shares when it comes to conference expansion. In fact, it is probably the worst part of college sports, the inevitable eclipse of sport and business.

That said, I believe the Big Ten may have acquired the next gem of college sports, in Maryland.

Say what? Maryland? Yes. Maryland.

Maryland developed NCAA championship credibility in basketball under coach Gary Williams and as the Wedding Crashers movie-line goes, “Crab cakes and football. That’s what Maryland does.”

Over the next decade, I believe that we will be talking about Maryland football as a perennial power.

How? Think Oregon. Oregon since the mid 1990’s has become a true football powerhouse in addition to five Pac 8/10/12 Conference titles in basketball.

Ever since Oregon alumnus and Nike founder, Phil Knight, established Nike as the premier sports brand and began to funnel millions of dollars into Oregon athletics with the Knight Labs, Oregon has been a recruiters dream.

Between the state-of-the-art facilities and Nike’s brand identity, Oregon has been able to recruit blue chip talent that has translated into record success.

When I see Maryland, I see a budding Oregon. Maryland is the alma mater of Under Armour founder, Kevin Plank.

According to Forbes as of August 2012, Under Armour is a $10 billion corporation. They actually have gained on Nike in the North American market over the past four years.

Now, comparatively, Nike is a $50 billion corporation. However, Nike earns two-thirds of its revenue overseas, whereas Under Armour earns 95-percent of its revenue in the United States and Canada.

This might not matter to sports fans, but to those in the know, this is a huge deal. Market analysts at Market Watch, are predicting that if Under Armour can increase its global market-share by just 15-percent, you could be looking at an honest competition for Nike.

For the Big Ten, this means big games and big money. There is no secret that Nike and Oregon capitalize on the brand’s recognition when it comes to recruiting.

Under Armour is rapidly becoming the biggest equipment brand in college athletics and professional football. Under Armour has spent millions of dollars establishing athletic camps around North America, including hosting the premier high school football preseason camps.

Under Armour founder Kevin Plank currently sits on the Board of Trustees at the University of Maryland and has already committed millions of dollars to their business and athletic funds.

Between the improved facilities and brand identity, Under Armour is setting Maryland up for similar success to that of Oregon.

And, if things play out the way many market analysts predict, I think the future of the Big Ten Conference rests on Michigan and Maryland.