SBJ/February 27 - March 5, 2006/This Weeks News

Running hot and cold

Before the Summer Games in 2000, Nike ran an Olympic advertising campaign under the motto: “You don’t win silver. You lose gold.” Last week, snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis took silver but won a lot more attention than gold could have delivered.

The 20-year-old, who got fancy on her next-to-last jump and crashed while leading the women’s snowboard cross event, became the topic of conversation on ESPN’s “PTI” and “Around the Horn” and the subject of a New York Times editorial.

In the game of marketability, Jacobellis won big, said Issa Sawabini of the youth-focused Fuse Marketing agency.

“If she had just won a medal, people would have focused on her for a day,” Sawabini said. “Now she did something that will stand out in people’s mind much longer. People who don’t snowboard probably saw that and went, ‘What was that?’ She probably increased her marketability.”

Jacobellis was one of several American athletes whose Olympic press deviated from the traditional gold-medal success stories, as feuds, failures and flops made most of the U.S. headlines during the games. Sports marketers weighed in on how that shift in emphasis might affect the marketability of Olympians Shani Davis, Chad Hedrick, Bode Miller and Jacobellis.

Shani Davis
Gold and Silver medals,
Men’s Speed Skating

A product of inner-city Chicago and the first African-American to win individual gold at the Winter Games, Davis had a positive story to sell. “Unfortunately, all of that story isn’t positive,” said Chris Caldwell, vice president of Velocity Sports & Entertainment, referring to Davis’ feud with fellow speed skater Chad Hedrick. “When you think about companies that want to tap into Americana and the virtue of the Olympics, I don’t see how controversy can help those guys. It’s not what you would characterize as a fun, healthy rivalry.”

Chad Hedrick
Multiple medalist, Men’s Speed Skating

Hedrick has been hurt more by the controversy surrounding him and Davis, said Bob Basche, chairman of the sports marketing firm Millsport. “He’s come off as the guy who’s stirring the pot,” Basche said. “You want to have someone working for your brand that people look up to and respect, and anything that detracts from that is a negative point in how they’re viewed. Unless there’s a big turnaround and they become best buddies and march in the Closing Ceremonies, this is hurting Chad. He’s coming out as more the villain.”

Bode Miller
Men’s Alpine Skiing

At press time, the defending world champion had failed to medal in four of his five events. Should he return to the United States without a medal, he could miss out on a multitude of endorsement opportunities, said Scott Sanford, a senior client director with Davie-Brown Talent. That’s a reflection of both his poor performance and the negative publicity surrounding his behavior, Sanford said. “If the general perception of Bode Miller is he’s not very likable, what brand would want to associate with that? He’s no Ron Artest or Terrell Owens, but he’s pretty close.”

Lindsey Jacobellis
Silver medal,
Women’s Snowboard Cross

Michael Neuman, senior vice president of New York-based Strategic Sports Group, a sports sponsorship consulting firm, said Jacobellis is still a “safe bet” because the coverage around her silver medal has been greater than it would have been had she won gold. He predicts her fall will attract brands interested in pursuing the youth market. “For them, marketing on individualism really resonates,” he said. “What she was trying to accomplish toward the end of her run spoke volumes about the confidence she has in herself and the flair of the sport.”

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