U.S. Gold Medalist Sage Kotsenburg Could Land Wheaties Box

Madison Avenue intrigued by 'Jeff Spicoli' of snowboarding

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Look for breakout U.S. Olympic star Sage Kotsenburg to possibly appear on a Wheaties cereal box this spring.

Sage Kotsenburg
Sage Kotsenburg

The 20-year-old snowboarder captured the gold medal Saturday at the first-ever Men's Slopestyle competition. During the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, he charmed the international press and viewers of NBC's coverage with a funny, laid-back personality that reminds his marketing representatives of "Jeff Spicoli," the surfer dude portrayed by Sean Penn in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High."

The phone's been ringing with sponsors intrigued by Mr. Kotsenburg, said Steve Astephen, president of the Action Sports & Olympics division of Wasserman Media Group. His agency has already approached General Mills, maker of Wheaties, and Olympic sponsor Procter & Gamble.

"Every athlete want to be on a Wheaties box. That would be a great accomplishment for Sage. We hope that turns into a reality pretty soon," said Mr. Astephen

The Breakfast of Champions put snowboarder Shaun White and skiier Lindsey Vonn on Wheaties boxes after they won gold at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. General Mills would not confirm or deny if Mr. Kotsenburg is under consideration. "We make it a point not to speculate about future honorees," said the company in a statement.

A Wheaties box is one of the most famous marketing perks in sports. With Mr. Kotsenburg's youth, good looks and fun-loving personality, Mr. Astephen thinks the sky's the limit for more long-term sponsorship deals.

"He's going to have a lot of opportunities. I call him the modern-day Spicoli. He's just the funniest kid," said Mr. Astephen. "He's got that laid-back, funny atmosphere to him. He's a special kid. He's going to have a lot of fun."

The U.S. team currently ranks a dissappointing fourth in the overall medal count. Both Mr. White and speed skater Shani Davis failed to medal after capturing gold at Vancouver in 2010 and in Turin, Italy, in 2006. Ms. Vonn blew her knee out before the Games even started.

Madison Avenue loves gold. With Team USA struggling so far, Mr. Kotsenburg and Women's Slopestyle gold medalist Jamie Anderson are two of the most marketable athletes so far, said sports-marketing expert Bob Dorfman.

"As the favorites fall by the waywide, there's an opening for fresh faces to come through -- and he's definitely one of them," said Mr. Dorfman, executive creative director of Baker Street Advertising in San Franscisco. "He's really an interesting character. He's got that real young, X-Games kind of attitude. Good-looking. And he's got his own little dialect, as he tries to popularize the word 'Spoice.'"

Another contender for endorsement deals is Iouri Podladtchikov, the Swiss snowboarder who dethroned Mr. White in the halfpipe. He's got the best nickname of any athlete in Sochi: "IPod." He was gracious and sportsmanlike after his upset victory.

Like Mr. Kotsenburg, Mr. Podladtchikov is represented by Wasserman. He's Russian-born but competes for his adopted home of Switzerland. The new king of the halfpipe should draw offers from sponsors in Europe the way that 2010 halfpipe gold medalist Torah Bright did in her native Australia , said Mr. Astephen.

"We saw a lot of movement in Australia with Subway and cell phone deals. My belief is IPod will have a huge opportunity in Europe. Huge," said Mr. Astephen.

General Mills is not a sponsor of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Instead, rival Kellogg's sponsors Team USA. But the Olympic marketing blackout for non-sponsors ends on Feb. 26, three days after the Closing Ceremony in Sochi.

Mr. Kotsenburg's not one of the U.S. athletes endorsing Team Kellogg's. They include: snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler; ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White; and skier Ted Ligety. Another possible partner for Mr. Kotsenburg, said Mr. Astephen, is Olympic sponsor Procter & Gamble, which has a good relationship with Wasserman.

Heading into Sochi, Mr. Kotsenburg boasted Nike as a sponsor. Mr. Astephen thinks the Swoosh will end up running ad campaigns celebrating his success. Executives at Nike and P&G could not be reached for comment.

Since striking its first deal with Major League Baseball in the 1930's, Wheaties has featured hundreds of athletes on its box covers. Some of the most famous Olympic athletes to appear include: Michael Jordan; Tiger Woods; and Olympians Mary Lou Retton and Bruce Jenner.