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Volume 22 No. 49
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Marketable vets return to Olympic stage

Olympic careers aren’t as short as they used to be, and that means some of Team USA’s most familiar names are staying in the marketing spotlight longer.

The recently completed Olympic trials included plenty of changing-of-the-guard moments, but most of the country’s top tier of past Olympic champions are heading to Rio, lending name recognition and stability to sponsors.

 
Familiar faces like Kerri Walsh Jennings and Gabby Douglas bring stability to sponsors.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES (20
The marketable veteran contingent is led by beach volleyball star Kerri Walsh Jennings, 37, returning to defend three straight gold medals, and swimmer Michael Phelps, 31, who after briefly retiring became the first American man to make five Olympic teams.

Women’s gymnastics, at least by its youthful standards, also has familiar faces coming back. Gold medalists Gabby Douglas, 20, and Aly Raisman, 22, are the first Americans to repeat as Olympic gymnasts in 16 years.

Diving 2012 gold medalist David Boudia is back again for his third Games, and wrestler Jordan Burroughs, 28, is a favorite to become USA Wrestling’s first repeat gold medalist since 1992. Boudia is on displays in drugstores nationwide as the face of Head & Shoulders, and Burroughs is a Ralph Lauren model.

Improved sport science and training tactics have helped Olympians make a living longer than they used to, but so has the growing role of corporate money in the sport, experts said.

“That influx of business around the Games allows somebody who may have retired a dozen years ago to say, ‘I’m going to stick around one more time because I love my sport and I’m making money,’” said Patrick Quinn, Chicago Sports & Entertainment Partners founder, who represents six-time Olympic shooter Kim Rhode, 36.

GOLD STANDARD
These medal-winning Olympians are back for another Olympics
ATHLETE SPORT YEARS MEDALED AGENCY
Kerri Walsh Jennings Beach volleyball 2004, 2008, 2012 The Legacy Agency
Phil Dalhausser Beach volleyball 2008 Premier Management Group
David Boudia Diving 2012 Shade Global
Nathan Adrian Swimming 2008, 2012 Octagon
Michael Phelps Swimming 2004, 2008, 2012 Octagon
Allison Schmitt Swimming 2008, 2012 Octagon
Ryan Lochte Swimming 2004, 2008, 2012 CAA Sports
Allyson Felix Track and field 2004, 2008, 2012 WME-IMG
Jordan Burroughs Wrestling 2012 WME-IMG
Aly Raisman Gymnastics 2012 Octagon
Gabby Douglas Gymnastics 2012 CAA Sports
Kim Rhode Shooting 1996-2012 CESP
Mariel Zagunis Fencing 2004, 2008 CESP
Source: SportsBusiness Journal research

Longevity alone is no guarantee of lucrative endorsements, of course. Performance, personality and a good backstory remain crucial. But all things being equal, a known quantity is safe for sponsors.

Swimmer Ryan Lochte, 31, for instance, struggled through injuries to secure a spot on the team for another Games. No matter what happens from here, he’s a good bet for sponsors based on his history.

“A gold-medal Olympian will always be a gold-medal Olympian, even if they don’t make it to the next Games,” said Greg Goldring, senior director of marketing at Platinum Rye, which helps sign athletes for Olympic sponsor Procter & Gamble. “The come-out-of-nowhere story is great, but it’s very challenging for a marketer to capitalize.”

Not all the veterans made it back. Several well-traveled athletes with prominent endorsement deals missed Rio because of injuries or performance, including swimmers Natalie Coughlin, Cullen Jones and Matt Grevers, and track athletes Sanya Richards-Ross and Lolo Jones.

Other heavily marketed athletes like sprinter Allyson Felix, 30, still made the team but not in as many events as hoped for by their sponsors and agents.

The U.S. track and field team includes 86 first-time Olympians among its 129 qualifiers, while USA Swimming features 30 Olympic rookies among its 47 qualifiers.

Premier Management Group founder Evan Morgenstein, a longtime agent for Olympians, said he’s surprised that more returning veterans didn’t make the team. But it’s still a tall order with young talent right behind them.

“The truth is, nobody sees it coming [when veterans miss the team], because NBC and Matt Lauer make it sound like, ‘Of course Gabby Douglas is going to the Olympics,’ but Gabby was fighting for her life out there,” Morgenstein said. “The truth is, it’s not easy repeating.”