Medals in hand, New England Olympians hunt for endorsements

Judo, the sport of Kayla Harrison (left), is less well known than gymnastics, a benefit for Aly Raisman when courting corporate endorsements.
Judo, the sport of Kayla Harrison (left), is less well known than gymnastics, a benefit for Aly Raisman when courting corporate endorsements. –Getty Images

With Olympic glory behind them, New England’s gold medalists can expect to cash in on their athletic successes in London, but the financial prospects between them will differ considerably.

Gymnast Aly Raisman, the 18-year-old from Needham who won individual gold for her floor routine and gold for the team event, probably has “the most potential’’ of local Olympians to earn big money with endorsement deals, said Robert Tuchman, president of New York-based sports marketing firm Skylight Entertainment.

“Her agents have the ammo they need to go out and market her,’’ Tuchman said. “She’s in the perfect demographic, too: She seems like a family-type girl, with not a lot of risk involved. She has a huge upside.’’


Analysts said Raisman could expect to receive endorsement deals for nationwide advertising campaigns and other celebrity offerings that could easily exceed $4 million over the next four years. Raisman has already retained the same top sports marketing team used by popular swimmer Michael Phelps, Virginia-based Octagon.

Though not directly involved in her sponsorship negotiations, Raisman’s coach, Mihai Brestyan, said she should take advantage of her success right away.

“I would just tell her, ‘You are on top of the world, you are an Olympic gold medalist, you have the momentum — use it before it’s gone,’’’ Brestyan said.

Raisman’s agent at Octagon was traveling and could not be immediately reached for comment.

The other top individual medalist from New England, Kayla Harrison, the first US athlete to win a gold in judo, can expect a much smaller payday, partly because her sport is much less known. The 22-year-old Harrison, who trained in Wakefield, has yet to receive any major offers, but will strategize with advisers this week, said her coach, Jimmy Pedro, who acknowledged it will be tougher to find endorsements as a judo champion than as a teen gymnast.

“For Kayla, it’s a matter of being able to compete for four more years without having to worry about where the next paycheck is coming from to cover rent or basic expenses,’’ Pedro said. “Certainly, she’s not a multimillion dollar commodity, but at same time, I think somewhere in the vicinity of $100,000 to $250,000 is a realistic opportunity for her.’’ That’s one of the frustrating facts of life for an athlete as accomplished as Harrison: The value of endorsement deals depends as much on the sport as on the individual.


“At the end of the day, it comes down to what sport they play,’’ Tuchman said. “There’s a lot of sports considered Olympic, but if there’s not a lot of money involved in the sport, and it’s not a sport that is followed by a lot of the general population, you’re not going to get those endorsement deals.’’

For advertisers, hitching their cart to Olympians can have mixed results, especially if they publicly misbehave. Kellogg’s dropped
Phelps from its roster of athletes after pictures surfaced of him apparently holding a bong. But analysts said Raisman in particular offers advertisers an opportunity to reach women, since women’s professional sports receive far less coverage in the United States than the Olympics.

“If you’re an advertiser and women are a key demographic, you’d rather have a gold medal gymnast than the best player in the WNBA, or even the NBA,’’ said Jeff Nelson, the director of analytics at Chicago-based sports sponsorship research firm Navigate Research. “Among the soccer moms, Raisman is probably a better endorser than LeBron James.’’

He mentioned major national food brands such Kraft Foods Inc. and Coca-Cola Co. as examples of the types of major companies that would be interested in Raisman. “She could really apply to any brand that’s looking to show that they’re the leaders in their category and are the gold standard. Definitely any companies targeting females, the all-American image, good values, family brands, consumer product companies — the McDonald’ses of the world.’’


Raisman will need to balance her gymnastics career with her newfound celebrity, Nelson said. She has to continue performing well while still keeping a high profile.

“If there’s a picture or two of her in US Weekly, that helps,’’ Nelson said. “The more she can be seen, the more it helps her brand.’’

Indeed, Raisman’s celebrity tour kicks off Tuesday morning, when she will appear with her fellow US gymnasts on “Good Morning America’’ in New York, and continues later in the day on the “Late Show with David Letterman.’’ The “Fierce Five,’’ as the teammates are now dubbed, will also pop onto the “The Colbert Report’’ on Wednesday night. Raisman and her teammates are also expected to embark on a 40-city national tour later this month, sponsored by Kellogg’s.

For athletes in second-tier sports such as Harrison and gold-winning Maine rower Eleanor Logan, a member of the women’s eight team, the key to cashing in is moving quickly, said Tuchman. “It comes down to their marketing agents striking while the iron’s hot and being proactive. There’s very few Michael Phelpses or Apolo Ohnos who are going to transcend other athletes.’’

Opportunities for Harrison and Logan could include corporate speaking engagements and sponsorships with local brands, Tuchman said. Harrison, who overcame abuse by a former coach on her way to Olympic gold, will work with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pedro said, speaking out about sexual abuse and efforts to prevent it.

Local companies that have used athletes in their advertising campaigns, including Gillette and Dunkin’ Donuts, have been mum on potential deals with returning local Olympians. A spokesman for Dunkin’ Donuts said in a statement that the company was “looking into sponsorship opportunities’’ but as yet has no plans.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Wheaties as a Kellogg’s cereal. Wheaties is a General Mills cereal.

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