IMG leads way with most Olympic medalists
With American athletes winning the fewest medals at a Winter Olympics in 20 years, talent representation agencies also have fewer bankable podium moments to work with coming out of Pyeongchang.
IMG was the only major agency to improve its medal count from Sochi, bringing home a total of 19 medalists from four countries, up from six medalists in 2014. Its dominant position in figure skating was the main cause, generating 17 of those medals thanks to both the Canadian and U.S. team figure-skating squads and ice dancing pairs.
Jay Ogden, senior vice president and managing director of winter sports for IMG, said he’s pleased with his clients’ competitive results and how they represented their countries.
“On both counts we’re pleased with the results,” Ogden said, “but again I’m most pleased with the personalities that came through in many instances.”
American Group Management, run by founder Brant Feldman, has five medalists, including three members of the gold-medal-winning U.S. women’s hockey team and one member of the second-place Canadian team.
“I certainly took a calculated risk many years ago getting into women’s hockey, and not a lot of other agency groups have gotten into women’s hockey,” Feldman said. “I do expect they’re all coming at this point. The women’s performance both on and off the ice is something I see a lot of value in.”
The correlation between medals and commercial opportunities is not as straightforward as it once was. In the past, medals were seen as a prerequisite to major deals. But in a social media age, athletes with outsized personalities and distinctive storylines can still deliver returns for brands even without podium finishes.
Take, for instance, Wasserman client Gus Kenworthy, a 2014 medalist who in Pyeongchang finished 12th in freeskiing slopestyle but is still one of the most prominent American Olympians because of his role as a spokesman for gay causes. Ogden pointed to Nathan Chen as an example. Chen was part of the bronze-medal-winning figure-skating team but did not medal as an individual despite high hopes.
Since the Olympic marketing period has shifted so far ahead of the Games, even major stars find limited opportunities in the immediate aftermath. But Ogden said Beijing 2022 is shaping up to be “huge” in corporate investment and fan engagement, which will be a major incentive for 2018 medalists to stick with their sport to cash in later.
“If you look ahead, and there are a lot of athletes on the fence, once they study that, they might say I’ll see if I can’t make it to Beijing,” he said.