Mantai Te’o’s finished on Madison Avenue before he even gets started

Notre Dame middle linebacker Manti Te’o was the most marketable college football player entering the NFL this year. He could have, and should have, landed the Subway endorsement and others that Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins got when turning pro last season.

But Deadspin’s scoop exposing his imaginary girlfriend — and the question of whether he’s a victim or a perpetrator in the hoax — has made him radioactive on Madison Avenue. Sports marketing experts I talked to last week said his endorsement career may be finished before it even gets started in a story I wrote for Advertising Age.

As sports marketing expert Bob Dorfman asked: “If you can’t believe him about his girlfriend, how can you believe him with a product in his hand?” I called Subway which uses a revolving door of athletic endorsers including Griffin and Michael Strahan and Jay Glazer of Fox. They wouldn’t touch this story with a 10-foot pole and declined to comment.

From my story in Ad Age:

The more significant damage could be to the potential athletic endorser value on Madison Avenue of Mr. Te’o, who recently signed with Creative Artists Agency. He seemed to embody the best Notre Dame story since Knute Rockne and the Gipper: The Catholic school’s most-popular player overcomes personal loss and tragedy to triumphantly lead the Irish to their first undefeated season in decades. In her dying words, his stricken girlfriend tells him to go out and win one for the team.

But if it turns out Mr. Te’o was cynically trying to generate sympathetic headlines for himself with gullible media outlets blinded by the Golden Dome, then sponsors won’t touch him with a 10-foot pole, said sports marketing expert Bob Dorfman.

‘If you can’t believe him about his girlfriend, how can you believe him with a product in his hand?’ asked Mr. Dorfman.

The amount of damage Mr. Te’o’s marketability sustains depends on whether he’s a victim or a perpetrator in the hoax. Said Mr. Dorfman: “This makes him look stupid and naive — at best. At worst, it makes him look like a conniving liar trying to build a myth around his play.

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