Who’s Winning The Endorsement Competition In London?

August 8, 2012

While watching gymnastics this week, I remembered writing a post immediately following the 2008 Summer Olympics about the most marketable athletes coming out of Beijing. I couldn’t recall exactly how my predictions turned out, so I thought it would be interesting to take a look back. And since I’m bringing up this long forgotten topic, you can probably guess that they were fairly accurate.

Interestingly enough, the two most marketable athletes back then will likely still top the list when the London Games wrap this weekend. My 2008 list (which excluded athletes who regularly compete in professional leagues) had Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt in the number one and two spots. That shouldn’t change looking forward. With another strong showing in London, Phelps is viewed by many as the greatest Olympian of all time. Barring more public run-ins with a bong or any other lapses in judgement, he’ll remain marketable for the rest of his life. Bolt remains the fastest man on the planet and has an engaging personality to boot. People love to watch him run and there’s no reason to believe that will change anytime soon.

There are other similarities between Beijing and London. In ’08, I put Shawn Johnson third on the list, ahead of her teammate and all-around gymnastics gold medalist Nastia Liukin, based on the permanent smile on her face and the “America’s sweetheart” qualities that made you want to root for her. That’s exactly what Gabby Douglas has. And even though Gabby failed to medal in her final two events, she leaves London with a pair of golds and an incredibly bright future. Gabby’s teammate, Aly Raisman, is close behind when it comes to marketability (even though she won more total medals) just like Liukin did in 2008.

While many expected the social media savvy Ryan Lochte to come out of these Games as the big winner from an endorsement standpoint, he was outshined by 17-year-old swimmer Missy Franklin. She broke a world record and won four golds while racking up nearly 350,000 followers on Twitter and exchanging tweets with the likes of Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift. She’ll round out the top five on this year’s list.

With just a few days left in the 2012 Games, there haven’t really been any male breakout stars. Andy Murray will make a lot of money by winning tennis gold in his home country, but he’s already a well-known pro tennis player. And Oscar Pistorius, the “Blade Runner,” was part of headlines and controversy — making a name for himself around the world. Just qualifying was amazing, but he finished last in his semi-final heat in the 400 meters and I don’t think he’ll be a household name long term.

Which athletes have stood out to you based on their marketing potential? Which star would you build your brand around?