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Gabby Douglas' Gold Worth Millions in Endorsement Deals

Advertising Age, August 03, 2012

By E.J. Schultz

For U.S. Olympic star Gabrielle Douglas, breakfast is just the start. Her deal to front Kellogg's Corn Flakes boxes is likely to be followed by endorsement deals from major marketers looking to capitalize on America's newest sports star.

"She's got a great personality, a great smile, a great backstory," said Jim Andrews, VP-content strategy for IEG, a sponsorship, research and consulting firm owned by WPP. "I think she'll be at the top of the list for companies looking to do something with a U.S. Olympic athlete," he said, adding that "she's definitely got the potential to earn millions."

Ms. Douglas' endorsement stock soared higher than one of her vaults on Thursday night, when she added an all-around gymnastic gold medal to the team gold she won earlier in the week. Kellogg Co., an official sponsor of USA Gymnastics, announced a deal hours later, on Friday morning, that will put her on special-edition Corn Flakes boxes in the fall.

But another marketer was ahead of the game. Procter & Gamble signed up the gymnast before the games, putting her in a "raising an Olympian" video that was produced immediately after the U.S. Gymnastics Olympic trials.

Also, "she's signed to represent the overall P&G brand, as well as our beauty brands (Olay, Pantene, CoverGirl, Secret)," a P&G spokesman told Ad age in an email.

The P&G and Kellogg deals will likely preclude competing personal care and food brands from making similar deals. But other categories seem wide open, such as apparel, Mr. Andrews noted. Still, he added, she is not likely to reach the sponsorship saturation of Mary Lou Retton, whose stardom and endorsement power lived on for years after becoming the first American woman to win all-around gold at the 1984 Olympics. "Nowadays both the companies and the athletes are a little bit more judicious in what deals they do," Mr. Andrews said. "I'm sure she has representation who is going to carefully select a handful of partners that make the most sense so that she is not over-exposed."

Also, because it's usually difficult for gymnasts to compete in multiple Olympics, "it's an intense burst" of attention, "but it has a very short shelf life," said Marc Ganis, president of SportsCorp, a sports-business consulting firm. "Effectively, they are in competition with the ... figure skaters," he said. And in the current era, when the summer games are followed by the Winter Olympics just two years later, "by the winter of 2014, the same sponsors and the same media attention will be focused on the figure skaters," he said, especially if there is a U.S. gold-winner on the rink.

Still, if Ms. Douglas can make it to the 2016 games in Brazil, she could approach the endorsement value of someone such as swimmer Michael Phelps, he added.

No matter what she eventually earns, there is no denying her star power today. Along with her charming smile, Ms. Douglas has a certain every-teen quality that makes her an immediate hit. She is a fan of "Twilight" movies and "Hunger Games," and listens to Lil' Wayne, Drake and Eminem, according to an interview she gave to Entertainment Weekly. "Gospel music always relaxes me and calms my nerves," she told the publication.

She also came out of nowhere, to some degree. Coming into the games, U.S. teammate Jordyn Wieber was considered the favorite, but she failed to qualify for the all-around finals.

"To have her burst on the scene like that, come out of nowhere, is part of the allure," said Darin David, an account director for sports-marketing agency The Marketing Arm. Also, "she was able to do that in one of the most high-profile events at the games. That puts her right there with any of the top swimmers or track stars coming out of the games," Mr. David said.

Ms. Douglas is also the first African-American woman to win all-around gymnastics gold, which makes her even more appealing to marketers, said Ahmad Islam, managing partner of multicultural agency ad agency Commonground. "Being the first at anything is always big news," he said. And as more brands look to "connect with multicultural consumers, but not necessarily do it at the exclusion of the masses, she's perfect in a lot of ways."

Perhaps even a Perfect 10.