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Volume 22 No. 11
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Visa signs 33 athletes for Olympic campaign

Longtime Olympic sponsor Visa will use a global roster heavy on American, Canadian and Brazilian athletes to lead its marketing surrounding the 2016 Rio Games.

Gold medal-winning decathlete Ashton Eaton, sprinter English Gardner and dominant triathlete Gwen Jorgensen are among the Americans newly identified by Visa last week when it unveiled its 33-person roster of Team Visa during an event in San Francisco.

Visa, rated as the best-known Olympic sponsor by sports executives in a Turnkey Sports poll in July, has endorsed more than 300 Olympians over the years and is closely watched for its choices and tactics each cycle.

Brianne Theisen-Eaton and husband Ashton Eaton are both on Visa’s Olympic roster for Rio.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
Visa will use the athletes in a campaign promoting its digital payment products, said Ricardo Fort, senior vice president of global brand, product and sponsorship marketing. Along with their odds of success in Rio and home-country marketability, Visa also looks for the athletes with a track record of innovating, Fort said, whether it be in training tactics, equipment use or other unconventional methods.

Visa requires all Team Visa athletes to sign the same terms despite their widely varying value as commercial assets, banking that some elite athletes will sign at below their market value in exchange for the prestige and worldwide platform Visa offers. Visa also can open doors to deals elsewhere in the financial services industry.

Sources pegged the price of the deals around $20,000 including performance incentives, a fraction of what well-known, elite Olympians can make in a sponsorship deal. Visa declined to

comment on terms.

Expect the athletes to be promoting Visa Checkout, a digital payment service customers can use across devices. “As the product rolls out throughout the rest of the world, we want the athletes to be spokespeople for Visa Checkout,” Fort said. “We also want them to understand where the future of payments is going to be.”

The list’s nationality breakdown reflects Visa’s global business priorities. Eight athletes hail from Olympic host country Brazil, six each from the U.S. and Canada, and three from Russia. For the 2012 London Olympics, 12 Americans signed with Visa.

The roster is a work in progress, Fort said, adding that the full Team Visa will include 40 to 50 athletes, down from a group of more than 60 four years ago. Five of the 33 so far are Paralympians.

Some of the athletes have long been associated with Team Visa, or had been previously announced, such as U.S. women’s national soccer team forward Carli Lloyd, who signed shortly after winning the World Cup in July. Longtime Visa-sponsored beach volleyball star Kerri Walsh Jennings and Paralympian Alana Nichols round out the U.S. part of Team Visa. Canadian swimmer Ryan Cochrane and Brazilian beach volleyball legend Emanuel Rego are among the most prominent global members.

Notable for his absence from Visa’s list of endorsers is 18-time gold medalist Michael Phelps, who had been a Team Visa member since the global concept was created in 2004.

“He may be part of Team Visa in the future, he’s just not as of today,” Fort said.

Octagon Olympic & Action Sports Managing Director Peter Carlisle, Phelps’ agent, said, “We have been in discussions. They have indicated their interest to continue with Michael, but we haven’t made any decisions yet.”