U.S. Ski & Snowboard would prefer its athletes didn’t leave South Korea when they still have Olympic events left. But is Red Gerard, the 17-year-old Olympic champion snowboarder who’s become an overnight sensation, going to stay in Korea when fame and fortune await him in America?
“As the first medalist, and with Red’s story, of course I’m leaving,” said his agent, Ryan Runke of Evolution Management + Marketing. “I’m getting him out of here right away. A, we’re not going to miss the opportunity for all the press hits, and B, it’s a good break for him to get out of here for a while. Thirty days is a long time [to be in Korea].”
The moment Gerard won, the clock started ticking on the ephemeral Olympic fame window, and Runke strategized with three people at the foot of the Phoenix Snow Park: U.S. Ski & Snowboard communications director Tom Webb; Fuse’s Lauren Machen, who is working for Gerard’s beverage sponsor, Mountain Dew; and Laura Anderson Sanchez from the publicity agency MFA.
The itinerary for his American media tour was set by 7 p.m. on Sunday, not eight hours later. Mountain Dew, which as a non-rings rights holder must tread carefully during the Olympic blackout period, is paying for the trip and hired Red’s brother Malachi to act as his personal manager, videographer and social media aid.
They decided Gerard would fly home Tuesday, do “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” then head to New York for “Good Morning America,” “Live with Kelly and Ryan,” “CBS Evening News,” Sports Illustrated, People and whatever else they can book. Only then he’ll return to Korea, where he still has the big air competition on the last Friday of the Games.
(Incidentally, USS approved Gerard’s trip after it was clear he could do the media tour and still be back in time to acclimatize and prepare for big air.)
Gerard is the classic action/Olympic sport crossover — he’s been a well-known personality in snowboarding for several years but still fits the bill for the mainstream Olympian breakout star. He wasn’t a prominent part of NBC’s advance promotions, and his personal sponsorship roster only recently added U.S. Olympic Committee sponsors Comcast, Hershey (Ice Breakers) and Oakley.
The situation is a massive business opportunity for Runke and Evolution, which recruited Runke and Gerard away from Prime Sports + Entertainment in January 2016. Non-endemic mainstream brands that hesitated on Gerard in the last year have already reached out.
“The phone started ringing,” said Runke, working on just six hours sleep since the gold medal two days earlier. “People started calling, saying, ‘Hey, we might want to be interested.’ Great, I’m glad you said no, or didn’t call me back two weeks ago, because now it just got more expensive.”
For Evolution, Gerard is just the first of several serious medal contenders in Pyeongchang. Clients Ben Ferguson and Chase Josey advanced to the finals of the men’s snowboard halfpipe on Wednesday, and freekiers Maggie Voisin, Maddie Bowman and Alex Hall are still to come next week.
“It’s the start of a good run, knock on wood,” said Tom Yaps, who helped recruit Runke to Evolution two years ago. The agency has the most American snowboard and freeski athletes of any single agency, though Wasserman does have a large international roster.
Sean Messing, Oakley’s global marketing manager, said Gerard is the total package: a star and a personality ideal for lifestyle brands. Oakley signed Gerard on Jan. 1.
“He’s a great contest rider, he’s super stylish, people are always watching to see what he’s doing,” Messing said. “But on top of that, he’s not just going from contest to contest, he’s out there filming, doing backcountry and traveling.”
Oakley will have to negotiate a longer deal to keep Gerard with the glasses brand. “This was to get him into the program,” Messing said. “I think we proved it in the first month that it made a lot of sense.”