SBD/Issue 100/Olympics

Lesser-Known Sponsors Help Olympians During Down Economy

Reutter Sports Logos Of
Lesser-Known Companies
A handful of "little-guy sponsors" came to the aid of U.S. Olympic athletes with "training help and endorsement deals when many corporate giants pulled back during the economic meltdown," according to Leanne Italie of the AP. Speedskater Katherine Reutter said, "As soon as the economy began going downhill, a lot of individual deals went down with it." New Jersey-based ophthalmologist Cary Silverman gave Reutter free Lasik eye surgery, with "travel and hotel expenses paid." Minneapolis-based Bioenergy Life Science Supplements & Sports Nutrition Sales Manager Gabe Herrick "provides her boxloads of a favorite energy powder," the company's D-Ribose. Reutter has been "wearing the company's logo on her left thigh and lapel" as part of the deal, which pays her a $2,500 monthly stipend in addition to the free supplements. Reutter's hometown police department in Champaign, Illinois, also has been a "loyal backer," and she said that "some of the big boys came to call" as the Vancouver Games approached. Reutter: "Verizon and PowerBar have just jumped on the train within the last couple of months. Now everybody wants a piece of the action." For many athletes, it is the "long-term personal sponsors who have supported them through the long haul." For six years, the only logo cross country skier Torin Koos "displayed on racing caps is that of USA Pears, a brand of fruit grown in his home state" of Oregon (AP, 2/3).

HAVES VS. HAVE-NOTS: ESPN.com's Howard Bryant noted the U.S. Winter Olympic delegation has its "millionaire hockey players, its professional skiers with million-dollar endorsement deals and snowboarders with video games named after them walking alongside its debt-ridden and anonymous-yet-world-class lugers and biathletes." U.S. hockey G Ryan Miller earns $6.5M per NHL season with the Sabres. Likewise, skiers Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller, as well as "new Olympic sport stars, such as snowboarder Shaun White, enjoy lucrative endorsement deals." White is an "unquestioned Madison Avenue star," with his own video game from Ubisoft and endorsement deals with Burton, Red Bull, Mountain Dew, Target, Oakley and H-P. Individual-sport stars such as Vonn, White and figure skater Johnny Weir can "use the Olympics as a springboard." On the contrary, luger Ashley Bengt-Walden "works at a roadside bar" in Lake Placid, while biathlete Laura Spector "lives with her parents" when she is not training. Still, "whether it is resentment or resignation to the realities of these stars' existence, some Olympians accept the market forces at work." Luger Erin Hamlin: "It's not football and basketball, so it's hard to get noticed. Do you feel it? Yes, that you have to perform consistently at a high level in order to maintain your funding" (ESPN.com, 2/3).

HARD TO BREAK THROUGH: The GLOBE & MAIL's Siri Agrell notes, "An Olympic medal can be worth more than its weight in gold for some athletes when they hang up their skates, skis or boards. But while the quest for Olympic glory is about being the best, a win does not guarantee precious sponsorship dollars, broadcast opportunities or a spot on the lucrative public-speaker circuit." Olympic agent Evan Morgenstein said that "turning a medal into a career is no longer a straightforward exercise in alchemy." It requires "not just athletic achievement, but the right look and story to grab public attention." Sports marketing consultant Brad Robins said that Canadian ad campaigns using athletes are "already monopolized by the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby and Mark Messier, leaving little room for amateur athletes" (GLOBE & MAIL, 2/5).

REACHING THE SUMMIT: The N.Y. TIMES MAGAZINE's Bill Pennington notes the expectations on Vonn "are immense." Vonn has one of the "signature American faces of the Games," with talk of her pursuit of a possible five Gold Medals in Vancouver. But no U.S. alpine skier has "ever won more than two Olympic medals in a career, let alone in a single Olympics." Vonn said, "I haven't won even one Olympic medal yet. I'd like to win the first one and let's see from there. But people are getting pretty amped up. ... They're Phelpsing me." But Pennington notes the comparison to swimmer Michael Phelps' eight Gold Medals at the Beijing Games "is unfair, of course." Vonn said, "I could do everything right in all five races and still not win a medal." But she "isn't shying away from the attention." Vonn: "The Olympics are what I've wanted for myself all my life" (N.Y. TIMES MAGAZINE, 2/7 issue).

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