SBD/January 24, 2014/Olympics

U.S. Bobsled Officials Deny Notion Lolo Jones Made Olympic Team For Publicity

Jones this week appeared in an "NBC Nightly News" segment and on "Today"
Three U.S. bobsledders said that Lolo Jones was "given the third and final brakeman spot on the Olympic team because of her fame (and her followers)," according to Kelly Whiteside of USA TODAY. Katie Eberling, who was in the running for the third and final spot that Jones received, said that there was "an agenda to put Jones on the team." She added, "I feel this year there was a certain agenda. It's no fault of my teammates. There's been a lot of inconsistencies and that makes you wonder what's going on. It's not right." Neither Eberling nor Emily Azevedo, who also missed out on an Olympic spot, "fault Jones for what they say is an unfair selection process." Eberling: "I know she didn't pick herself. I know she's not the one to be blamed." Officials on Thursday defended the selection process, and U.S. Bobsled & Skeleton Federation CEO Darrin Steele said, "There is no doubt in my mind that people are disappointed that Katie and Emily did not make the team. But it's never about publicity or marketing. The best way to market the sport is by winning." Whiteside notes Jones, a two-time Olympic hurdler, this week has been "featured in a segment on NBC's Nightly News and also was interviewed on Today." Both appearances "speak to Jones' marketability, which bobsledders say had a role in the team selection." U.S. men's bobsledder Curt Tomasevicz: "We're returning gold medalists and not getting much PR because all the bobsled attention is on Lolo. It brings a lot of attention to the sport which can be a good thing, but I'm not just sure who is benefiting from that attention" (USA TODAY, 1/24). Steele said, "Nobody put any pressure on us. We haven't made a single deal based on Lolo Jones. ... I can see the logic when people don't understand the sport. I'm a little disappointed with some of the people inside the sport who make the same statements" (AP, 1/23).

NBC DENIES PLAYING A ROLE: NBC Olympics Exec Producer Jim Bell said speculation that the net pressured the USA Bobsled into selecting Jones, which has been ratcheted up by a recent Sports On Earth column from Selena Roberts, is "utterly ridiculous." NBC Olympics President Gary Zenkel added it was "preposterous." Deitsch noted NBC is "short on pre-made star athletes heading into this year's Sochi Games," and Jones gives the net a "huge ratings opportunity for a sport that usually doesn't get mega primetime coverage." It is "not up for argument ... that NBC will ride the Jones story heavy over the next three weeks" (SI.com, 1/23). ESPN's Jason Whitlock said, "There is absolutely something fishy to this. ... This is a Winter Olympics that I don't think has a big television star to drive ratings" ("PTI," ESPN, 1/23).

NGB YET TO SEE TANGIBLE BENEFITS: Jones has not added any new sponsors since joining the Olympic team this week, and her representatives at The Legacy Agency said she does not plan to add any before the Games. Her existing non-Olympic sponsors Asics, Red Bull and Twin Lab will continue to feature her in marketing until January 30, when non-Olympic sponsors have to discontinue using Olympians to comply with IOC rules. Her two Olympic sponsors, McDonald’s and BP, plan to feature her in their social media programs throughout the Games. Jones made two media appearances this week with NBC -- Tuesday's "Today" and Monday's "Nightly News." However, the Legacy Agency’s Brandon Swibel said, "We’re getting a number of requests (from companies) but we’re turning everything down because her focus is on the Olympics. She just wants that medal." Steele said the NGB has benefitted from the media attention delivered by Jones and Lauryn Williams, a Gold Medalist in the 400-meter relay in London who also made the bobsled team. Steele hopes that attention eventually translates into sponsorship opportunities for the organization, but that has not happened yet. He said, "I’ve had one or two sponsors that have approached us because they were looking for a deal with (Jones) or access to her, but we don’t include specific athletes or promise athletes to a sponsor." Steele: "From a recruiting standpoint, it’s very good. It sends a message that a lot of people don’t realize: We can teach you how to bobsled. It’s one of the few sports you can get high-level athletes and teach them the sport in a couple of years" (Tripp Mickle, Staff Writer).
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