By Published on .

For most U.S. superstars of the 1994 Winter Olympics, the road from Lillehammer has been paved with endorsement gold. But Ukrainian Oksana Baiul's sports marketing highway is riddled with potholes.

A banking company has unexpectedly taken control of the star figure skater's business affairs and nullified her largest endorsement deal with M&M/Mars.

Advertising Age has learned that in the three months since Ms. Baiul won the Olympic gold medal, Ukrainian Financial Group-described as a large merchant banking company-has also fired her agent.

The Snickers arrangement was negotiated by figure skating superagent Michael Rosenberg, who had handled the skater since early 1993. But Ukrainian Financial ordered Mr. Rosenberg to return Ms. Baiul's six-figure fee from M&M/Mars and then dismissed the agent via letters signed by Ms. Baiul.

Mr. Rosenberg said he was "surprised and disappointed" by the termination, which was followed by Ukrainian Financial's appointment of the powerful William Morris Agency to manage Ms. Baiul's business ventures from its New York and Los Angeles offices.

Repeated calls to M&M/Mars weren't returned, but an executive at William Morris confirmed the Snickers deal had fallen through and said Mr. Rosenberg was dismissed because Ukrainian Financial wanted a more worldwide push for Ms. Baiul.

Little is known about Ukrainian Financial, but William Morris, concerned about the company's legitimacy, was satisfied with the results of a background check.

It's unclear whether Ukrainian Financial was connected to Ms. Baiul before her Olympic win. But it has also assumed career control over fellow skater Viktor Petrenko-also a former client of Mr. Rosenberg-and Ms. Baiul's coach, Galina Zmievskaya.

While Ms. Baiul's endorsement career sputters, fellow gold medalist Dan Jansen is up and running. His agent, Integrated Sports International, East Rutherford, N.J., has most recently inked deals for him with Eastman Kodak Co. and John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co.

CPC International has nabbed another speed skater, Bonnie Blair, to pitch Skippy peanut butter. A slew of companies, including Mattel, Reebok International and Seiko Corp. of America, are pondering a cross-marketing plan for figure skating medalist Nancy Kerrigan (AA, May 9).

Already the race is on for hot prospects of the '96 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

ISI recently signed gymnast Shannon Miller, expected to be one of the biggest stars, and will likely pitch Hershey Chocolate USA and Visa USA for endorsement deals.

"She's a darling pixie of a girl and a two-time world champion," said Fred Fried, senior VP at ISI. "With this kind of talent, and given that the Games will be held in the United States, we believe marketers will seek her out."

Most Popular
In this article: