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This story first appeared in the July 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Anyone can picture Michael Phelps biting into a Subway sandwich. But with the London Olympics set to begin July 27, a new class of up-and-coming American athletes is poised for rich endorsement deals. Marketing experts and agents agree that beyond gold medals, there are a handful of attributes Olympians must possess to snare top-dollar deals.
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“You have to be well-spoken, good-looking and it has to be the right sport, or else Madison Avenue isn’t going to care,” says Evan Morgenstein, CEO of PMG Sports, which represents past Olympians like Janet Evans as well as Tyler Clary, a swimmer competing this summer. Morgenstein is referring to track and field, swimming, diving and other events that have long captivated audiences. Deals for Olympians range from product sponsorships to motivational speaking tours and TV analyst gigs.
However, one sports business source cautions that many of the biggest deals — with the likes of Coca-Cola and BMW — were inked well in advance of the Olympics. The goal is the type of fame achieved by Phelps that allows the athlete to transcend his or her sport. Says Jesse Ryback, director of business development at consultancy Premier Partnerships, “The model is where you can have a guy recognizable enough that you don’t have to have him swimming or running — you can have him eating a sandwich.”
David Boudia, diver
Reps: PMG Sports
Boudia, who has deals with Visa, Coca-Cola and TD Ameritrade, is drawing comparisons to Greg Louganis — provided the 23-year-old comes up big. Media experts have pegged him as the best hope to stop the Chinese divers from sweeping.
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Gabrielle Douglas, gymnast
Reps: Shade Global
The 16-year-old is trying to become the first black female gymnast to win the all-around. She also has an interesting backstory: Her father, an Air Force staff sergeant, has served in Afghanistan. “She has seven-figure upside,” says Morgenstein. Douglas recently signed her first deal with Procter & Gamble.
Missy Franklin, swimmer
Swimming in seven events — a record for a U.S. woman — Franklin, 17, has the potential to be a breakout star. Were she to set the U.S. women’s swimming medal record, she could have her pick of the litter when it comes to deals — provided she gives up her NCAA eligibility.
Lolo Jones, hurdler
Reps: Legacy Agency
Jones, 29, could win the gold she missed in 2008 in Beijing when she tripped in the 100m hurdles. Then there is her virginity — which she has spoken about — and her recovery from 2011 spinal-cord surgery. Endorsements include Asics, BP and McDonald’s.
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Sanya Richards-Ross, sprinter
The 27-year-old Jamaican-American athlete has battled back from a 2007 diagnosis of a rare disease called Behcet’s syndrome that leaves her fatigued. She also co-owns a salon in Texas with her sister and is married to NFL cornerback Aaron Ross. A reality show about her life is being shopped.
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