There’s much to love about the Olympics: the competition, the come-from-behind wins, the agony of defeat – not to mention beating up on NBC for its coverage. Add to these usual attractions the making of Olympic brands.
There’s nothing like watching a young person get plucked from obscurity and thrust onto an international stage. Put simply, and to use an appropriate metaphor, they either sink or swim.
We saw the power of the Olympics to forge new personal brands four years ago when American swimming hero Michael Phelps cemented his status as an Olympic legend. While he stumbled along the way, he’s since built on that – he’s certifiably an Olympic God now – and there are estimates that he’ll earn upwards of $100 million in his lifetime thanks to endorsement deals.
As soon as the last Olympics concluded, Ryan Lochte, Phelps’s compatriot and main American competitor in the pool, began setting the stage for introducing his own unique brand. From his trademark phrase (“jeah”) to his red-white-and-blue grill to his sparkling green high-top sneakers, he’s been hard at work building his personal brand presence. According to a Forbes estimate, it’s paying off: his endorsement earnings are about $2.3 million this year and are climbing.
Someone with no personal brand coming into the Olympics is Gabby Douglas, the American gymnast who won gold twice and stole her country’s collective heart. Her thousand-megawatt smile and all-American-girl appeal are sure to snag her lucrative endorsements (she came into the Olympics with P&G as a backer, who decided to take a risk on an unknown – a risk that’s paid off big for them.) If she goes on to compete and win at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, some estimate she could approach Phelps’s level of endorsement income.
While both Phelps and Lochte have had to carefully manage their images and their personal brands, Douglas is something of blank slate. She’s so young (she hasn’t started dating yet) she will likely be able to construct and manage a pretty durable personal brand – not unlike what Mary Lou Retton did a generation before her.
There are a host of lesser brands, even if the athletes themselves are as worthy as their high-profile compatriots. The American volleyball duo of Misty May Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings manage both collective and individual brands that are pretty impressive. And Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt is dazzling and well known stateside.
But only a few Olympians land in the territory held by Phelps, Lochte and now Douglas. While Lochte and Douglas have less impressive medal hauls than Phelps and others, they’ve got something most Olympians don’t: a cinematic appeal. They exude that certain something – a combination of good looks, charm, charisma and athletic prowess – that’s just catnip to brands. And while Phelps doesn’t have the same cinematic qualities as the other two, he’s made history and there will always be brands that want to be associated with the best athletes in the world.
While the money and exposure is important, and can lead to bigger and better things – Lochte, for one, hopes to segue after the 2016 Olympics into a career in fashion – it can also change the lives of the athlete’s families. Not only will these athletes be able to secure their financial futures, they’ll be able to give back to their families commensurate to what those families sacrificed for their children.
All of which is to say, there’s so much more to the Olympics than just the competition. A lot rides on what these athletes are able to do with their moment in the sun. Only a few will be able to parlay their Olympic gold into a whole lot of green. And we’ve got a whole week left to go! Watching who wins and who loses on that score is pretty riveting stuff.
Author DEREK GORDON is a marketing and sales exec with more than 20 years success in integrated marketing and sales strategy and management. He is the Chief Marketing and Sales Officer for Pathbrite. You can also check out his blog, Daily Casserole.