SBJ/November 19 - 25, 2001/Marketingsponsorship

Kwan still a good skate with advertisers, despite odd year

Despite a series of unexpected turns in her quest to become a repeat U.S. Olympic team member, figure skater Michelle Kwan apparently remains on solid footing as a celebrity product endorser.

Kwan is the choice of Mattel Inc. to headline today's unveiling of a new "Star Skater" Olympic Barbie doll. A Mattel representative said Kwan's likeness will appear on packaging and in a television advertising campaign. The doll is the first Barbie to feature an Asian "face sculpt." Kwan is Chinese-American. It also is available in Caucasian and African-American versions.

The product launch at the El Segundo, Calif., ice rink where Kwan has trained is a joint event between Mattel, a Salt Lake 2002 and U.S. Olympic team licensee, and the Children's Miracle Network, for which Kwan is a spokeswoman.

She also remains under a multiyear agreement with Chevrolet, worth a reported $1 million, as a key figure in the automaker's sponsorship of the 2002 U.S. Olympic Team and Salt Lake City Winter Games, including the forthcoming Olympic torch relay from Atlanta to Salt Lake City. Chevy has been a U.S. Figure Skating Association sponsor since 1997.

Kwan is featured in Chevy's "Skate to Salt Lake" sweepstakes promotion, which will send five winners to the 2002 State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and a grand-prize winner with a guest to the Salt Lake Games this February.

Kwan, 21, won the Olympic silver medal in 1998 and was No. 1 the following year in a survey (by Burns Sports & Celebrities Inc.) of ad agency executives asked to rank the most appealing female athlete endorsers. In the most recent Burns survey, Kwan was sixth behind, among others, 1992 Olympic skating gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi (No. 4).

Against this backdrop, sports marketers, skating fans and officials alike have watched with amazement this season as Kwan, a world and national champion, has come a bit unglued. She fired her choreographer earlier this year. Then, in October, in a move virtually unprecedented among Olympic medal contenders, Kwan fired her coach of 12 years, the acclaimed Frank Carroll. She has one victory in four competitions this season, and a controversial one at that. Judges were criticized at Skate America, an international competition in late October, when Kwan's marks seemed to reflect her status rather than the quality of her effort.

Kwan, whose annual endorsement income is about $2 million, is on leave from course work at UCLA and had not named a new coach at press time.

THE IOC'S MAN IN BEIJING: As reported Aug. 6 in this publication, Dutch International Olympic Committee member Hein Verbruggen will chair the coordination commission overseeing preparations by 2008 Summer Games organizers in Beijing. The IOC announced his appointment in early November.

Verbruggen, 60, president of the International Cycling Union since 1991, might consider the Beijing commission post a welcome change of pace. As head of the ICU, he repeatedly has been called upon to defend cycling's performance drug scandals, most notably during the 1998 Tour de France. Verbruggen also is a member of the coordination panel keeping watch over Athens 2004 organizers, who have struggled to stay on schedule amid political infighting.

WIRING THE MOUNTAINS: How's this for an Olympic legacy? AT&T's Joe Ramondini said the company's technicians have "doubled voice and data transmission capacity" along the Wasatch mountain range as part of AT&T's sponsorship of the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. AT&T also provides digital video and audio technology to U.S. television rights holder NBC. Ramondini, group director of Olympic sponsorship, promotion and event marketing, said the company is involved in Games security meetings, since communications within the security framework is key.

HOW TO ACT: A Salt Lake city newspaper got its hands on the 150-page manual published for next year's corps of 19,000 Olympic Games volunteers. According to the Deseret News, volunteers are instructed to avoid hand gestures, to remove sunglasses while speaking to guests, and to decline comment on the Salt Lake "bid scandal." There also is specific language directing volunteers to remove their hats and bow when greeting visitors from Italy, a practice the newspaper indicated seems out of date.

Steve Woodward can be reached at SteveWoodwardHere@hotmail.com.

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