With Lindsey Vonn Out, Marketers Must Rethink Sochi Ad Strategies

NBC Will Pivot to Other American Olympians Such as Shaun White and Julia Mancuso

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When the heavy hitters from NBC Sports such as Chairman Mark Lazarus and host Bob Costas unveiled their plans for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Tuesday, there was one prominent face missing from their sizzle reel: skier Lindsey Vonn.

On the same morning NBC met the press in New York, Ms. Vonn had announced on "Today" that she'll be forced to miss Sochi due to a knee injury. So NBC went with a version of the introductory video that focused on other U.S. Olympic stars, such as Julia Mancuso and Shaun White.

Heading into Sochi, Ms. Vonn, who won downhill gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, was going to be the American face of Russia's first-ever Winter Olympics. With her athletic skill, telegenic good looks, and high profile romance with Tiger Woods, she was the closest thing to guaranteed ratings. In its first ad campaign promoting Sochi, NBC put her front and center along with Mr. White, who won snowboarding gold medals at the 2006 and 2010 Olympics.

But now NBC has lost one of its biggest stars. So have Ms. Vonn's corporate sponsors: Procter & Gamble, Under Armour, Oakley, Red Bull, Rolex and Head. Don't be surprised if Ms. Vonn's corporate sponsors rethink how, or if, they use her in marketing campaigns before, during and after the Sochi Games which begin Feb. 6.

Noting that NBC still has plenty of American athletes to focus on such as Ms. Mancuso and Mr. White, Mr. Lazarus said he's not worried.

"We wish we still had Lindsey there. But we don't. That's the nature of sports," said Mr. Lazarus during NBC's presser at the Saturday Night Live studio at Rockefeller Center.

Her sponsors publicly expressed support Tuesday. For the time being, none said they planned to change their ad plans due to Ms. Vonn's injury.

Under Armour, for example, recently unveiled Ms. Vonn as the face of its new "Infared" cold weather gear. UA is "not changing anything" ad-wise, said spokeswoman Diane Pelkey.

"Lindsey Vonn is one of the most iconic athletes of this generation and we are honored that she is such an integral part of the Under Armour family and an exemplary ambassador for the brand," said Ms. Pelkey. "Her strength, drive, and relentless will to compete despite severe injury are reflective of her true love for the sport and her undeniable spirit. We wish Lindsey a speedy recovery to full health and look forward to seeing her back out on the hill for the continuation of her remarkable career."

Ms. Vonn has also been featured prominently in P&G's "Thank you, Mom" campaign. P&G also stood behind the 29-year old Olympian in a statement on Tuesday.

"We support Lindsey in her decision to take the necessary steps to recover from her injury and we will continue to support her throughout her journey. We are honored to have her as part of our P&G Family of athletes and wish her the very best."

Ms. Vonn signed an endorsement deal with Oakley to wear the company's ski goggles and sunglasses after the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Pat McIlvain, global VP-sports marketing at Oakley, said her deal expires after this season. Despite her absence from Sochi, Oakley is interested in renewing its deal with Ms. Vonn if, as expected, she continues her skiing career and looks to compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

"We need to sit down with Lindsey, figure out what her goals are and make sure they align with what our goals are," said Mr. McIlvain. "But we have every intention of continuing the relationship with Lindsey."

In the meantime, Oakley's not planning any changes in how it "leverages" its relationship with Ms. Vonn, said Mr. McIlvain.

"Lindsey continues to drive brand for us. We're very sad she's not going to be able to compete at the Games. But with her commitment to the sport, I'm sure she'll bounce back and be a big part of our marketing campaigns in the future."

Separately, two-time Olympic figure skating medalist Nancy Kerrigan will join NBC's Sochi coverage. Ms. Kerrigan, the victim of the Tonya Harding-planned assault that drove boffo ratings for the 1994 Lillehammer Games, will serve as an analyst for NBC and NBCSN as well as other NBCUniversal shows such as "Today," "E!" and "Access Hollywood."

Ms Kerrigan will give viewers insight into what it takes to compete at the highest level, said Jim Bell, executive producer of NBC Olympics.

NBC will live-stream all events with the exception of Opening Ceremonies hosted by Matt Lauer on Feb. 7, said Mr. Lazarus.

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