We are just under 100 days away from the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The games officially begin on Friday, August 5th lasting until Sunday, August 21st. Along with dazzling displays of athleticism, you’ll also get to witness another time-honored Olympic tradition – corporate branding. And while the stadiums, clothing, and merchandise will be draped in sponsorship deals, the biggest form of branding will be in the form of the athletes themselves. Until the 1970s, Olympic athletes could not accept endorsements, and professionals were not allowed to compete in the Games. But that rule has long since been overturned, and Olympic athletes have become top influencers for the Games and beyond. And while there are many positives to having an athlete as your spokesperson, there are some potential downsides. Lets take a look at these two examples of how athletes handled their role in the spotlight.
Missy Franklin The golden girl of the 2012 London Olympics, Missy Franklin, finally concluded her two-year college swimming career at the University of California, Berkley, finally making the decision to go pro. Once she had announced her decision to go pro on NBC’s Today Show, her life changed from that moment on. She immediately received numerous endorsement deals, including United Airlines, GoPro, Speedo, Minute Maid, Visa, Wheaties, Topps playing cards and a publishing deal with Penguin Random House. Vetting out an endorsement deal is extremely similar to vetting out a PR opportunity for a client and we often go through the same thought process. Through numerous brand promotions on social media, Missy constantly supports her brands by posting a series of photos and videos using the product, all while using the correct hashtags and tagging the proper names. The brands Missy signed with were already extremely popular within their respective industries but helped Missy evolve her wholesome image with the backing of these major organizations. In various media interviews, Missy focuses on her new professional career and how she plans to prepare for the Olympic Games.
Michael Phelps: Michael Phelps, who is named the greatest Olympian ever after his stellar performance at the 2004 Olympic Games, winning eight gold medals. After that proud and one of a kind moment in his career, Phelps received numerous endorsement offers as well and soon became the face of many different brands such as Visa, Speedo, watchmaker Omega and AT&T Wireless. In February 2009, Phelps found himself repeatedly apologizing to his family & friends, media, coaches, and most importantly his sponsors for getting caught on camera smoking marijuana. This incident happened three months after his 8 gold medal run at the 2004 Olympic Games. Phelps was immediately suspended for three months and lost endorsements from Kellogg and Subway. Sponsors such as Speedo, Omega and Visa accepted his apology and continued working with Phelps. Phelps was able to change his public image and the way people thought about him all while preparing for his next competition and the 2016 Olympics.
These two top Olympic athletes, one at the beginning of her professional career and one who will leave a lasting impression on the athletic in the swimming world, have both worked extremely hard to maintain their brand relationships and public images. Without proper media training, however, their results could have been vastly different. But through proper media training, these athletes have demonstrated what hard work it takes to build a top notch branding empire.