Cashing in medals for money is tough sledding for most U.S. Olympians

James F. Peltz, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Olympics

When she arrived for the Winter Olympics in South Korea, Chloe Kim already was an accomplished snowboarder with endorsement deals from the likes of Visa, Nike and Toyota.

Then came her dominating performance to win the gold medal in the women's snowboarding halfpipe in Pyeongchang, and the charismatic 17-year-old Southern Californian instantly became a breakout star of the Olympic Games with a future likely to include much more lucrative sponsorship deals.

"She probably had five or six endorsements already and now she may well do at least another four or five major ones," said Don Franken, president of World Class Sports, a sports talent and marketing agency.

The U.S. women's hockey team, which won its first gold medal in 20 years with a 3-2 win over Canada in a shootout Thursday, also is a feel-good story that could be leveraged into added endorsements for the American group, analysts said. The team already has a multiyear sponsorship deal with Dunkin' Donuts.

But Kim and the hockey team will be the exception, not the rule.

Few athletes manage to convert their Olympic glory into fat bank accounts, sports marketing executives said. While established Winter Olympics stars such as skiers Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin, and snowboarder Shaun White continue to profit handsomely from sponsorships, most members of the U.S. Olympic team don't attain multimillion-dollar wealth.

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"You may have gotten a bronze medal in the Olympics but typically it's not going to translate to even a bronze in endorsements," said Ben Sturner, chief executive of Leverage Agency, a sports and entertainment marketing firm.

The main problem: The games come around only once every four years, as opposed to other sports that stretch on for months every year.

Olympic athletes compete year-round in other events but "why would (corporate) brands get behind someone when they're not going to be seen on prime-time television for another four years?" Sturner said. "Two months from now there's no story about them. By April and May, no one is talking about the Olympics."

In addition, it's tough for Olympic celebrity endorsers to maintain staying power in the coming months when viewers, especially sports fans, are preoccupied with college basketball's tournament, the opening of the baseball season and the start of the NBA playoffs.


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