In the aftermath of the most-watched Olympics-winter or summer-in TV history, the Games in Lillehammer, Norway, left behind a team of highly marketable superstars that could be major players in many companies' 1996 Summer Olympics marketing.
"The Atlanta Games will be the biggest sporting event in the history of the world, and companies will want to use these Win-ter Olympic athletes who have names and gold medals," said Fred Fried, exec VP-chief operating officer at sports marketing company Integrated Sports International, East Rutherford, N.J.
Olympic medal winners tend to burn bright and fade quickly. But the increased attention generated by the Jan. 6 attack on U.S. figure skater Nancy Kerrigan and by supporters of rival Tonya Harding turned the '94 Winter Olympics into irresistible entertainment that attracted a record number of TV viewers.
The first 12 nights of CBS' prime-time coverage earned a 27.6 Nielsen rating and a 41 share, up 44% from the first 12 nights of the 1992 Winter Olympics. On Feb. 23-the first night of women's figure skating-more than 110 million people in the U.S. alone tuned in. That night pulled down a 48.5 rating and a 64 share, making it the eighth-most watched TV program of all time.
Using proven athletes to promote the Atlanta Games would be safer than using unproven 1996 Summer Olympic competitors.
Case in point: Reebok International's use of U.S. decathlon athletes Dan O'Brien and Dave Johnson in advertising leading up to the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. The campaign backfired after Mr. O'Brien failed to make the U.S. Olympic team and Mr. Johnson failed to win a medal.
Ad Age asked several sports marketing pros last week, before the Games concluded, to rate a number of athletes on two criteria-performance and personality-on a scale of 1 to 6. The two were averaged to determine overall scores.
The experts said the hottest properties coming out of the Winter Olympics are all Americans: Ms. Kerrigan, speed skaters Dan Jansen and Bonnie Blair, and skiers Tommy Moe and Picabo Street. But they said some athletes from outside the U.S.-like figure skater Oksana Baiul from the Ukraine and speed skater Johann Koss from Norway-could also grab attention from U.S. marketers.
Here's how the mar keting pros ranked the athletes: Ms. Kerrigan, 5.78; Mr. Jansen, 5.68; Ms. Blair, 5.5; Mr. Moe, 5.3; Ms. Street, 5.23; Mr. Koss, 4.6; Ms. Baiul, 4.21; and Ms. Harding, 2.91.
Mr. Jansen has been signed by AT&T. He will also appear in print ads this summer for National Football League Properties, endorsing a line of licensed apparel, and is believed to be talking with a package-goods marketer.
Ms. Blair will be featured on boxes of Kellogg's Corn Flakes that arrive in stores this week. She was close to signing endorsement deals with a services company and a food company, one of which breaks a TV spot March 1. Like Mr. Jansen, she has signed a deal with AT&T; each will be featured in a spot from N W Ayer, New York, breaking this week.
And movie deals about the lives of Mr. Jansen, Ms. Kerrigan and Mr. Moe are in the works.
As for Ms. Kerrigan, she will headline two figure skating specials on ABC in the next two months. Her marketing portfolio now includes long-term contracts with Campbell Soup Co., Reebok and, most recently, Revlon (AA, Feb. 14). She will make $11 million from current endorsement and entertainment deals, according to industry estimates.