SBD/January 8, 2014/Marketing and Sponsorship

Vonn's Decision Surprises Sponsors, But Should Not Have Large Impact On Marketing Plans

Vonn is the chief spokesperson of P&G's “Thank You, Mom” campaign
Lindsey Vonn’s decision to skip the Sochi Games yesterday caught her sponsors by surprise, but the timing of the decision means it will have a limited effect on their marketing plans. Vonn has just one sponsorship deal with an Olympic sponsor, as P&G tapped her to be the chief spokesperson of its “Thank You, Mom” campaign. However, Vonn will not appear in any P&G advertising, with the company expected to lean on 16 other athletes such as hockey player Julie Chu and alpine skiers Ted Ligety and Mikaela Shiffrin. P&G’s beauty brands such as Olay, CoverGirl and Pantene are expected to feature Vonn in Olympic-related marketing despite her absence from the Sochi Games, though the company would not provide details of their plans. The rest of Vonn’s endorsements are long-term deals that extend beyond the Olympics. Those include Red Bull, Under Armour, Rolex, GoPro, Vail Resorts, Head and Oakley, among others. UA developed a winter ad that features Vonn prominently and has been airing during NFL and college football and basketball games over the last two months. The company was expected to pull that advertisement in the days leading up to Sochi in order to comply with the IOC’s Rule 40, which forbids non-Olympic sponsors from featuring Olympians in ads during the Games. But because Vonn will not be competing, UA will be able to continue to run the spot during the Olympics if it chooses. A UA spokesperson today said its “media buy is wrapping up and there are no plans to change it.”

NOT EXPECTED TO TRAVEL TO RUSSIA: Sponsors typically include injury clauses in their contracts with Olympians, but rather than exercising those clauses, sponsors often look for other ways for an athlete to fulfill her commitments through appearances or social media. Vonn is expected to have surgery before the Sochi Games and is not planning to travel to Russia. That means she will not be able to make appearances in Sochi for P&G or NBC. She could, however, attend P&G-related events in the U.S. or do satellite TV appearances from home or NBC studios.

COULD THIS IMPACT FUTURE EARNINGS? The effect of Vonn’s injury on her long-term earning potential will be determined by whether or not she returns for the ‘18 Pyeongchang Games. Success there would boost her opportunities for endorsements and appearances after she retires, said Olympic agent Evan Morgenstein, founder of PMG Sports. He added, “She’s got huge name recognition. But the way to truly cross over as an Olympic athlete is to have your last Olympic experience be your greatest moment. If you come back from injury and win in glorious fashion, people will remember you forever. You have to ride off into the sunset like Mark Spitz, Bruce Jenner, Mike Eruzione. It’s really important the last thing the public gets is your greatest moment. The jury is still out with her.” Vonn is represented by IMG VP/Action Sports Mark Ervin and Sue Dorf.
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