SBD/Issue 102/Olympics

Speedskater Shani Davis Takes Different Approach To Marketing

Davis Little Known In The U.S. Despite 
His Successful Speedskating Career
Speedskater Shani Davis, who is "poised to become one of the most decorated Winter Olympians ever to compete" for the U.S., is "little known and poorly compensated at home," according to Michael Sokolove of the N.Y. TIMES MAGAZINE. Davis' photo is not "among the dozens of pictures on U.S. Speedskating's official Web site," which is an "oddity that would be akin to the Yankees' airbrushing Derek Jeter out of all their promotional material." U.S. Speedskating Exec Dir Bob Crowley said Davis "requested that we not have any photos of him on the site, and we honored that request." Davis also "opts out of the 'athlete's agreement' with U.S. Speedskating and the modest stipend that comes with it, giving him more latitude to seek his own sponsors." Davis in December called Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert, whose "Colbert Nation" sponsors U.S. Speedskating, a "jerk," perhaps in response to a "satirical skit Davis considered offensive to Canadians." That move did not help Davis' "standing with the public or his sponsorship possibilities." Davis "softened in January and appeared on 'The Colbert Report,' even agreeing to a mock 500-meter race with Colbert." But Davis "certainly does not seem overly driven by the prospect of money, or at least not enough to plaster on a fake smile when he feels like scowling." Sokolove writes it is "possible we have become so used to athletes eager to cash in -- to convert their gold medals into lucrative deals selling Wheaties, watches, cars, sports drinks -- that he, by contrast, seems strange and off-putting" (N.Y. TIMES MAGAZINE, 2/7 issue). SI's Alexander Wolff notes Davis currently "vagabonds between rinks in Salt Lake City and Milwaukee with the help of sponsorship funds provided by three Dutch companies, as well as Nike" (SI, 2/8 issue).

OLYMPIC AMBASSADOR: In Seattle, Ron Judd wrote there is a reason U.S. speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno is the "first guy you see when NBC starts endlessly pitching the 2010 Vancouver Games to the public." Ohno has "grown, before our eyes, from a precocious little inline-skate punk" into a "literal Olympics ambassador -- a role which, at the advanced age of 27, he takes quite seriously." Ohno's "off-ice exploits have given him the sort of fame that few Olympians achieve," and "unlike most Winter Olympians, Ohno has enough sponsorship money to keep financially comfortable." But "despite what he calls 'a lot of green lights in the Hollywood area,' especially after winning" ABC's "Dancing With The Stars," Ohno "chose instead to return for one last shot at Olympic glory" (SEATTLE TIMES, 2/7).

MAKING THE GAMES HER OWN? The CP's Jim Morris write U.S. skier Lindsey Vonn "easily could become the international face" of the Vancouver Games if you combine her "persona with her potential to win three or more gold medals." NBC's Brian Williams said Vonn is the "one athlete I can think of that would be a face of the Games not only in North America but in Europe and the Far East." Williams: "She is so well known in Europe and so [dominant] in women's skiing." Morris noted NBC has "already made Vonn the centre of its marketing campaign for the Games," and "crowning an American queen of the ski hill would boost NBC's television ratings much like" swimmer Michael Phelps did during the '08 Beijing Games (CP, 2/7). "Access Hollywood" reporter Maria Menounos noted Vonn's "singular devotion to her sport combined with those Hollywood good looks has made her a rising star that may well reach Phelpsian proportion. She already has some 10 endorsement deals, but the uncontrollable course and weather conditions inherent in ski racing make the Michael Phelps comparison unfair." Menounos added, "Hollywood may be in her future … and she'd love to try 'Dancing With The Stars.'" Vonn: "I think it would be fun" ("Access Hollywood," 2/9).

FOUR PILLARS OF STRENGTH: In Dallas, Barry Horn noted NBC is depending on Davis, Ohno, Vonn and snowboarder Shaun White "to help hype its coverage." All four athletes "should all be center stage on prime time Feb. 17, which some in the NBC family are referring to as 'White Hot Wednesday'" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 2/7).

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