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Volume 21 No. 1


Two U.S.-based global sports marketing firms, Wasserman Media Group and Octagon, posted their own impressive performances at the London Olympics, representing athletes who took home a combined 53 Olympic medals, 34 of them gold.

Wasserman represented 38 athletes who competed in the Games, including multiple members of the U.S. men’s and women’s gold-medal-winning basketball teams (two players and seven players, respectively), and nine members of the gold-medal-winning U.S. women’s soccer team. Wasserman clients took home 25 gold medals, eight silver and two bronze.

Octagon, meanwhile, represented many individual-sport athletes who won gold,

Shade Global represents gymnast Gabby Douglas (top left), diver David Boudia is aligned with PMG Sports and Wasserman Media Group counts soccer players Hope Solo and Abby Wambach (above) as clients.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES (3)
including Michael Phelps, who won four gold medals and two silvers to bring his Olympic total to a record 18 golds and 22 overall. Octagon’s athlete clients, who also include swimmer Nathan Adrian and gymnast Aly Raisman, took home a total of 18 medals from London, nine of them gold.

Other U.S. sports agencies, both big, multisport talent representation firms and boutique shops that specialize in representing Olympic athletes, had multiple clients who won multiple medals (see chart).

While agents said it was great to have their clients win multiple medals in the Olympics, what counts in business is which agents and clients sign lucrative, multiyear deals with major corporations that help build the athletes’ brands.
“It’s not the number of medals; it’s the quality of the medals,” said Peter Carlisle, Octagon director of Olympics and action sports and Phelps’ agent.

Every medal provides an opportunity for an athlete client to sign sponsors, but differences come about when considering an athlete’s sport and whether the competitor is an individual medalist or part of a team.

Key athletes

Wasserman Media Group: Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Maya Moore, Sue Bird, Candace Parker, Jordyn Wieber, Hope Solo, Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan
Octagon: Michael Phelps, Nathan Adrian, Aly Raisman, Ricky Berens, Natalie Coughlin, Laura Robson
Arluck Promotions: Matt Grevers, Carmelita Jeter, Cesar Cielo, Ous Mellouli, Nick Thoman, Peter Vanderkaay
PMG Sports: Cullen Jones, David Boudia, Eric Shanteau, Tyler Clary
WME: Serena Williams, Allyson Felix, McKayla Maroney, Jordan Burroughs
CAA: Sanya Richards-Ross, Carmelo Anthony, Andy Murray
Shade Global: Gabby Douglas
IMG: Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova

“I think it’s night and day,” said Evan Morgenstein, president and CEO of PMG Sports, of the marketability of a team-sport medal winner or an individual medal winner. “If you win a relay medal, the endemics are interested — but it is much harder to get any interest outside the endemics, unless you have a story.”

PMG Sports represented athletes who accounted for 11 medals in London, five of them gold, including one awarded to David Boudia, the first U.S. male diver to win gold since Greg Louganis in 1988. Other agencies that specialize in representing Olympic athletes include Arluck Promotions, which represented athletes who won 18 medals, nine of them gold, and Shade Global, which represents gymnast Gabby Douglas, who won the individual all-around gold medal as well as a gold as part of the U.S. team.

Other agencies who represented clients who won more than one medal in London include CAA and IMG. CAA represented athletes who won seven medals, six of them gold, including men’s singles tennis winner Andy Murray. IMG represented two medal winners: Venus Williams, who won a gold medal with her sister, Serena, for women’s doubles tennis; and Maria Sharapova, who won a silver medal for women’s singles tennis.

Michael Phelps is close to announcing two new partnerships with companies that are not Olympic sponsors, the swimmer’s agent, Peter Carlisle, said last week.

Carlisle, managing director of Olympics and action sports for Octagon, declined to identify the companies, citing confidentiality agreements, but he said the deals were expected to be announced in the next week or so.

The swimmer is expected to announce new partnerships in the next week or so.
Phelps last week announced a deal with General Mills brand Wheaties that puts him on the famous cereal box cover. Phelps, who became the most decorated Olympian in history in London, also has partnerships with Visa, Omega, Under Armour, Hilton, Master Spas, Procter & Gamble, Subway, Speedo, Pure Sport and HP.

Carlisle said he had received calls from more than 50 companies inquiring about working with Phelps since the end of the London Games, adding that he turned down two deals that were offered by companies while the Olympics were ongoing. He said one of the two is a major, global brand, but he declined to identify any of the interested companies.

“The way this works is, I will get, on a given day — and I don’t know how long this is going to last — but I am getting something like 20 to 25 inquiries a day,” Carlisle said.

Prior to the Olympics, Carlisle cited the beverage category as one he was wanting to fill for Phelps after London. He also said he would look internationally for deals (SportsBusiness Journal, July 30-Aug. 5 issue).

Carlisle last week said he has received inquiries from more than one network about potential broadcasting deals for Phelps, as well. He would not name the networks. Asked if the broadcast inquiries were limited to Phelps working in some capacity with Olympics or swimming only, Carlisle said, “The broadcast stuff is not a priority right now. I don’t know what it is limited to.”

Carlisle has said he believes Phelps can earn more than $100 million over his lifetime. “People will think I am crazy, but I believe as long as he wants to do business, his opportunities can grow,” he said. “In my opinion, he is one of the truly global sports icons whose significance will probably transcend time.”

By winning four gold and two silver medals in London, Phelps became the most decorated Olympian ever with 22 medals, surpassing Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina, who won 18 medals between 1956 and 1964. Carlisle said he highlighted the possibility that Phelps would break that 48-year-old record to the companies that are expected to announce deals with Phelps imminently.

Louis Vuitton last week unveiled two images featuring Phelps, including one of him with Latynina, though no deal with that company had been officially announced as of press time.

Carlisle said Phelps’ having the Olympic record for medals puts him on par as a global sports icon with the likes of Pelé or Muhammad Ali. It opens the door for him to do deals with global brands, licensing deals and appearance deals the type of which Phelps didn’t have time to do when he was an active, competitive swimmer.

There are a lot of possibilities “assuming he wants to continue to work,” Carlisle said. “He can say, ‘I am tired of doing all these things and I just want to play golf,’ and that would be totally fine.”

Carlisle said Phelps, most immediately, has said he wants to travel but that he has indicated he wants to work, as well.

As for Carlisle, he has spent a lot of his time the last 10 years building Phelps’ brand. He said he enjoys mentoring the seven agents he oversees in Octagon’s Olympic and action sports division. Octagon agents Janey Miller, Robert Wagner, Abigail Tordoff and Anastasia Skavronskaia also represented athletes who won medals in London. Asked, though, whom he wants to represent in the future, Carlisle said, “Michael Phelps.”