Winning a gold medal can help land an athlete a juicy endorsement deal, but it's not a guarantee that it will make the big bucks roll in. In fact, a win at the Olympics is just one of many traits an athlete must possess to go from Olympics stardom to a high-paid celebrity endorsement deal.
That's the contention of Kevin Gwinner, professor and head of the department of marketing in the College of Business Administration at Kansas State University, who says endorsement gold is not earned on Olympic gold alone.
While medals at the Olympics often translate into endorsement deals, how lucrative the endorsement will be depends on a variety of other factors, Gwinner said.
"It really depends on the visibility of the athlete and the type of product they are being asked to endorse," he said.
But a gold medal is no guarantee an Olympic athlete will land endorsement deals. Gwinner said a company selecting an athlete or celebrity endorser will take the following factors into account.
- The athlete is a high achiever. "Multiple Olympics or multiple medals are better than one," Gwinner said. Think Michael Phelps.
- Consumers believe the athlete believes in the product and is not doing it only for money. Mary Lou Retton, anyone?
- The athlete is well-known and has an easily recognizable name.
- The athlete has a likable personality and is admired.
- The athlete is visually recognizable. "This means beyond recognizing the name, will the consumer also recognize a picture of the athlete," Gwinner said.
- The athlete is physically attractive.
But hiring an athlete also comes with risks for a company if he or she gets in trouble for bad behavior, such as getting a DUI, or, as in Phelps' case, getting caught with a giant bong in your hands.
"It's always risky to hire a celebrity or athlete as an endorser. That's why good conduct/morality clauses are usually written into the endorsement contracts. They let companies get rid of someone who behaves badly," Gwinner said.
"Also, I think that the public recognizes that the athletes' actions, such as getting a DUI, are not the fault of the company. But the company needs to act quickly to separate themselves from the athlete," he said.