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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 8, 2010

U.S. Olympians gain marketability in wake of Woods saga

USA Today

With the 2010 Vancouver Games completed, the competition has begun for endorsement gold. And Tiger Woods' loss could be an Olympian's gain.

Woods' stunning fall from corporate grace could boost the prospects of the most marketable Winter Olympians, sports marketers say. Among the potential winners: the USA's Shaun White, Lindsey Vonn, Apolo Anton Ohno, Julia Mancuso, Shani Davis, Bode Miller and Evan Lysacek; Canada's Sidney Crosby and Joannie Rochette; and South Korea's Kim Yu-Na.

Only a few Olympians pick up big-money deals after a Games. The rest are usually ignored by Madison Avenue until they are preparing to compete four years later.

But the sex scandal embroiling Woods is adding a new dynamic. Woods has been dumped by Gatorade, AT&T and Accenture. His problems could make marketers pass on mainstream athletes and hire Olympians, who are seen as safer bets, although swimming star Michael Phelps, for example, was photographed smoking a marijuana pipe.

The Woods saga has "sponsors very concerned about aligning themselves with athletes who could be problematic," says Rob Prazmark, founder of 21 Marketing. "An Olympian is a very safe bet; 99 percent of them are role models."

White, who repeated his gold medal in the snowboard halfpipe, is the "most marketable star" from Vancouver and should soar past $10 million in annual endorsement earnings, says Baker Street Advertising executive creative director Bob Dorfman, who writes a post-Olympic scouting report for marketers.

"He not only appeals to the X Games generation but their parents," Dorfman says. "He's kind of edgy but wholesome. Given the Tiger Woods story these days, that's very appealing to marketers."

Brandon Steiner, chief executive of Steiner Sports Marketing, agrees about White, who now gets an estimated $7 million a year from sponsors such as Target, Red Bull and Oakley.

"He's the rock star," Steiner says.

Vonn won a gold medal in skiing's downhill and a bronze in the super-G despite an injured shin.