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Will Olympic Stars Score Ads?

Media & Marketing, February 28, 2010

By Thomas Grillo

Lindsey Vonn may have won gold in the downhill and grabbed headlines at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, but the slopes star’s success won’t necessarily translate into a multimillion-dollar endorsement deal.

“Vonn is really hot right now,” said Jim Andrews, senior vice president of IEG, a Chicago corporate sponsorship consulting firm. But “in April, people may not remember who she is.”

Winter Olympic athletes rarely command big paydays when the games are gone.

“The winter athletes have a tougher time getting big, national endorsement deals because the sports like the luge, Nordic combined and the biathlon are more obscure,” Andrews said. “They’re not as visible as some in a team sport or a golfer or a tennis player.”

Summertime tends to be sweeter for athletes. Mary Lou Retton catapulted to global fame by becoming the first American woman to win a gold medal in gymnastics at the 1984 Olympic Games in. Swimmer Michael Phelps was showered with endorsements after his success at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and the record eight gold medals he grabbed at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Still, speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno, snowboarder Sean White and Alpine skiier Bode Miller - who all won gold - should do well in securing lucrative deals after the Olympics, which wrap up with tonight’s Closing Ceremony.

“But that’s because they have already established themselves in the endorsement game,” Andrews said. “If I’m a marketer, I want athletes to do my advertising if they are well known and are good in front of a camera. These athletes already have a brand name.”

Miller, a New Hampshire native, has the potential for a big payday. While hopes were on Miller to medal at the 2006 Olympics, he failed to complete three of five events and seemed more interested in partying and drinking.

“He was supposed to be the star of the Torino games, but didn’t seem to care about winning and lost a bunch of deals,” Andrews said. “But this year, he’s done relatively well and won three medals.

“Everyone loves a comeback story,” he added.