Celebrity: Olympians go for endorsement gold

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The 19th Winter Olympics barely ended Feb. 24 when advertisers and marketers tripped all over themselves to get to the most compelling medalists from Salt Lake City.

Those who have begun to cash in include ladies' figure skating champion Sarah Hughes; long-track speedskating gold medalist Derek Parra; skeleton racers Jim Shea and Lee Ann Parsley; and Canadian pairs figure skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, who were given a co-gold medal after a judging scandal disrupted the first week of the Games.

"With the Olympics, you have to act fast," said Steve Rosner, a former agent for several Olympians and the founder and president of 16W Sports Marketing, Rutherford, N.J. "When [speedskater] Dan Jansen finally won his gold in Lillehammer in 1994, I had two endorsement deals and five speaking engagements set up for him by the time he set foot back on American soil 14 days later."

cereal-box gold

The big winner of the 2002 Games appears to be Ms. Hughes, who landed the coveted spot on the front of select boxes of General Mills' Wheaties cereal. People close to the Wheaties deal said Ms. Hughes received around $250,000 for the first of what should be several million dollars' worth of endorsements.

Brandon Steiner, president of Steiner Sports Marketing, said Mr. Parra, 31, women's bobsledder Vonetta Flowers, 28, Gen-X short-track speedskating star Apolo Anton Ohno, 19, and others have raised awareness for minority athletes in the Winter Games. Mr. Parra, was the first one to turn around a deal after winning a gold medal, doing a quick TV commercial for AT&T Corp., handled by WPP Group's Y&R Advertising, New York, that appeared two days after his victory. He was the first Mexican-American to win Winter Olympics gold and has been approached for an endorsement by, among others, Kraft Foods owned-Nabisco's Fig Newtons, Mr. Parra's pre-race snack of choice. Days after Parra's win, Ms. Flowers became the first African-American to win Winter gold when she teamed with Jill Bakken in the women's bobsled.

"Frankly, I think the big winners of these Games are the minorities and a new direction for corporate America," Mr. Steiner said. "I think you're going to see a lot of companies take their corporate dollars and these [sports] into urban areas."

Both Mr. Shea and Ms. Parsley have gripping, made-for-TV stories, which help their chances of landing endorsements. Mr. Shea, 33, is a third-generation Olympian whose father, Jim Sr., was a skier and whose grandfather, Jack, was a speedskater who won gold in 1932 in Lake Placid. All three did a commercial for Sprint that ran in the months leading up to the Games. Jack Shea, 91, was killed in January by an alleged drunk driver.

Ms. Parsley, 33, is a former Ohio Firefighter of the Year who took a leave of absence to try out for the Olympics. Keith Kreiter, president-chairman of Edge Sports International, Chicago, represents both athletes and said deals with Sprint, Kellogg Co., Xerox Corp., Nu-Skin and Nestle's PowerBar-worked on before the Olympics-will kick in for both.

But outside of this elite group, expect few other deals. The experts cited a common theme: The Winter Olympics have a short shelf-life, and some of the sports outside of figure skating-such as speedskating, bobsledding and snowboarding-are simply not mainstream enough. Even the telegenic pair of Sale and Pelletier, who last week signed an endorsement deal to promote Procter & Gamble Co.'s Crest Whitestrips, might find problems scoring any other big deals.

"Two thoughts," said one sports-marketing-firm president. "One, wrong country. Two, they're a pair, and it's hard to market a pair, even for motivational speeches."

Fast Facts

Olympic athletes who have already turned their success into endorsement deals

Sarah Hughes: Wheaties

David Pelletier and Jamie Sale: Crest Whitestrips

Derek Parra: Home Depot, AT&T Corp.

Jim Shea: Sprint, Kellogg Co.

Lee Ann Parsley: Nu-Skin, PowerBar

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