The tough economy has made it even harder for Olympians to cash in on what is a very short window to do so.
And if the window of relevance wasn't short enough, the International Olympic Committee rules make that window even shorter.
Last night, at midnight, Rule 41 kicked in. The rule forbids athletes from participating in any campaign by a non-Olympic sponsor from Feb. 4 (nine days before the games) to March 3 (three days after the games), unless the United States Olympic Committee grants that company and athlete a waiver.
USOC chief marketing officer Lisa Baird, in an e-mail to CNBC, said that some companies and athletes were granted waivers, but didn't have the complete list on hand.
While the goal is obviously to prevent ambush marketing, the rule certainly hurts Olympians from signing deals with non-sponsors since those companies are longshots to be granted waivers.
Some insiders believe that the hands off period becomes a deterrent for advertisers to sign those athletes in the first place because if the athletes can't be used in the week before the games, what's the point of having them on the roster to begin with?
“When I first got into the business of repping Olympic athletes, Rule 41 was for just the two weeks of the games and it was supposed to be a buffer against ambush marketing," said Olympic agent Evan Morgenstein. "Now it’s essentially five weeks long. I just hope all the US Team medals, otherwise their opportunity to generate endorsements and paid opportunities just might end today."
Update: The USOC says it makes exceptions to Rule 41 when there is no conflict with an IOC or USOC sponsor, and when one of the athletes is promoting a good cause and/or there is a natural tie-in to the broadcast. A few examples for the 2010 Games include the Washington Potato Association, which has a campaign with Apolo Ohno that promotes good nutrition and the importance of healthy living and the U.S. Census Bureau, which has a campaign with Julie Chu, Ben Agosto and Jennifer Rodriguez encouraging the public to fill out their census forms to help their communities.
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