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2012 athletes could reap rewards

Team USA’s historic medal haul at the Vancouver Olympics has resulted in more endorsement and appearance opportunities for Olympians than after the 2006 Winter Games, but the biggest beneficiaries of the increase in corporate interest may be athletes competing in the London Games, Olympic agents and marketers say.

In the week since the Vancouver Games closed, several medalists have renewed with existing partners or signed new deals. Gold-medal snowboarder Seth Wescott and silver-medal skier Julia Mancuso renewed agreements with Visa; gold-, silver- and bronze-medal skier Bode Miller renewed an agreement with Swiss watchmaker Hublot; and silver-medal hockey player Jessie Vetter signed a new grassroots marketing deal with American Family Insurance.

Seth Wescott (below) and Julia Mancuso
are two 2010 athletes to renew deals
with an existing partner.

“Because it was North America and because there were huge hockey games, there have been a lot of inquiries,” said Patrick Quinn, a partner at Chicago Sports & Entertainment Partners who represents Vetter and speedskaters Chad Hedrick and Katherine Reutter.

The level of interest has encouraged Quinn and other agents to believe that the athlete endorsement landscape may have begun to recover after freezing up in September 2008 during the height of the recession.

“We are approaching pre-September ’08 activity levels on a marketing front,” said CAA’s Lowell Taub, who represents Miller and Mancuso. “My team and I are happy with the level of interest and deals across the board.”

While the thaw in the endorsement landscape may net some deals for Vancouver medalists, Taub and others said that the biggest beneficiaries will be athletes participating in the 2012 London Games.

Olympic sponsors and non-Olympic sponsors increasingly focus on signing athlete endorsements ahead of Olympic Games rather than afterward. That forward-looking strategy means few sponsors will expand activation after Vancouver, but many will be motivated to look for new opportunities ahead of London in 2012.

Olympic Agency Gold
How Olympic marketing agencies fared in Vancouver, based on their number of client medals
Firm
Gold
Silver
Bronze
Total medals
Octagon
2
4
7
13
CAA*
4
5
1
10
IMG
5
0
1
6
J. Kenneth Sowles PC**
2
3
1
6
Chicago Sports & Entertainment
0
3
3
6
The Agency Sports Management
0
1
2
3
Wasserman Media Group
1
0
1
2
* Represents Bode Miller and Julia Mancuso for marketing
** Represents Miller and Mancuso for endemic endorsements
Source: SportsBusiness Journal research

“The notion of achieving success at the Games and having the phone ring off the hook [afterward] with companies that want to do massive advertising campaigns just doesn’t happen anymore,” said Peter Carlisle, Octagon’s director of Olympic and action sports, who represents Wescott and swimmer Michael Phelps.

In terms of overall opportunities, there are more now than after Torino in 2006, he said, but “there is more of an impact on summer athletes.”

Davie Brown account director Matt Delzell said that each Olympics can help or hurt the subsequent Olympics, and that Team USA’s success at winning the Vancouver medal count would help 2012 athletes considerably by raising the profile of the Olympics.

Taub agreed, saying, “What happened over the last three weeks is a boon for the 2012 Summer Olympians. Because of the level of creative and the way the country was swept up in the competition, I do believe that sponsors will try to replicate that model around London.”

Evan Morgenstein, CEO of Premier Management Group, which specializes in representing Summer Olympians, said that corporate sponsors in Vancouver were excited about the television numbers and that U.S. athletes fared well, but said he hasn’t gotten any calls yet about deals for London. He added that the window for Vancouver athletes to sign deals is closing fast.

“Nothing has changed for athletes,” Morgenstein said. “The snow will melt and athletes are running around and trying to cash in on this. Some will, but most won’t.”

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