Don't expect controversy to dent Sanchez's brand

Fans of the New York Jets might still be harboring disappointment at narrowly missing out on the Super Bowl. But for quarterback Mark Sanchez(notes), waiting for next year is probably a blessing.

Just before the Super Bowl, I posted a piece asserting that marketers would have much preferred Sanchez in the big game than Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger(notes), whose past indiscretions were keeping him off the endorsement radar. As it turns out, the timing would have been a disaster had Sanchez been the one to play in and win the big game. Disney execs might have gagged on their Frozen Cokes at the sight of Sanchez telling the world he's "going to Disney World," just as his mug is being made into tabloid fodder for being a 17-year-old's hookup.

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But Sanchez isn't looking at a disaster. Current partners like Pepsi Max and Toyota haven't shown any signs they'll cut him loose. And with a work stoppage looming over the NFL, most marketing plans are on hold right now anyway. "This is probably the best time it could have happened," says Patrick McGee of ProVentures, a consulting firm that specializes in matching companies with athletes and other celebrity spokespeople. "Anyone who might make a spend on the NFL is waiting to see how the collective bargaining deal works out."

It's also unlikely that the drama will last. Should Sanchez and the Jets make it to Indianapolis next February, don't expect Disney or any other marketer to shy away from him. Because 17 is a legal age of consent in New York and New Jersey, Sanchez isn't facing any legal issues that could drag the incident out in the news. His challenge is purely one of public perception – some people just find the idea of a 24-year-old NFL quarterback dating a high school student a little bit bizarre and unseemly. Not good for the endorsement portfolio.

Experts say his best strategy is a low key one. Chalk it up to a spur of the moment mistake that won't be repeated, and move on. A public apology, says Los Angeles-based crisis management coach Cindy Rakowitz, only makes sense for those who are married, which Sanchez isn't. What matters most: he lets it be know that he's learned from the experience that he ought to stick to women closer to his age in the future. "It's a point that can be made personally to the advertising community and not necessarily at a large press conference," says Rakowitz.

The one true lingering concern, according to McGee: Sanchez's tabloid travails complete a season in which the Jets swash buckled their way from a foul mouthed coach on HBO's "Hard Knocks" to a DWI of a starting receiver and locker room catcalls directed at a female reporter. By completing the soap opera season, Sanchez is now part of the mix, another controversial Jet. "As a company, you're going to look at that," McGee says. Thankfully, by the Sanchez has time to put the controversy behind him before marketers are ready to spend again.