The 10 Most-Marketable Summer Olympians

The Most-Marketable Olympians

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The Olympic cauldron is extinguished and the Olympic flag has passed from London to Rio de Janeiro. For the athletes of the 2012 London Olympic games, the results are in the history books and for a few of the most amazing athletes, the record books. Now for many of these world class athletes, it’s time to temporarily switch their attention away from athletic competition to the corporate boardroom.
Photo: Thiery Zoccolan | AFP | Getty Images

The Olympic cauldron is extinguished and the Olympic flag has passed from London to Rio de Janeiro.

For the athletes of the 2012 London Olympic games, the results are in the history books, and for a few of the most amazing athletes, the record books. Now for many of these world class athletes, it’s time to temporarily switch their attention away from athletic competition to the corporate boardroom.

So which Olympians left their mark on the 2012 games and are the biggest names in business? What names will sports marketers and sponsors be looking to sign?

Here’s a look at 10 Olympic athletes you can expect to cash in between now and the start of the next summer Olympics. (Note: To be eligible for consideration, athletes cannot complete in a professional sports league — so LeBron James, Kerri Walsh Jennings, Misty May-Treanor are out.)

Pictured left, Americans Missy Franklin and Michael Phelps.

By Tom Rotunno
Posted 14 Aug 2012

10. Sushil Kumar, Wrestler

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Sushil Kumar didn’t win gold as hoped, but he will be returning to his home country of India a hero. A freestyle wrestler, Kumar is the first Indian to win a medal in consecutive Olympics after winning a bronze in Beijing 2008. He is already well known in his home country as the 2008 recipient of the country’s highest sporting honor, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award. He has previously endorsed brands such as Eicher trucks and Mountain Dew and can expect more opportunities in the aftermath of an
Photo: Kaushik Roy | India Today Group | Getty Images

Sushil Kumar didn’t win gold as hoped, but he will be returning home to India a hero as a result of his silver medal.

The silver in wrestling made Kumar the first Indian to win a medal in consecutive Olympics after winning a bronze in Beijing 2008. He is already well known in his home country as the 2008 recipient of the country’s highest sporting honor, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award.

He has previously endorsed brands, such as Eicher trucks and Mountain Dew, and can expect more opportunities in the aftermath of another medal-winning performance in London.

9. Liu Xiang, Hurdler

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Already a superstar in China after winning the country’s first track and field gold medal in Athens in 2004, Liu Xiang has more than 10 companies backing him, including, , Cadillac,and . He faced bitter resentment and criticism when he failed to make it past the first round on his home turf of Beijing in 2008, due to an Achilles tendon injury. Liu suffered the same fate in London, again injuring himself on the first hurdle of the first round. But he picked himself up and, hopping on one foot, he
Photo: Adrian Dennis | AFP | Getty Images

Already a superstar in China after winning the country’s first track and field gold medal in Athens in 2004, Liu Xiang has more than 10 companies backing him, including Nike, Coca-Cola, GM's Cadillac, Visa and China Mobile.

He faced resentment and criticism when he failed to make it past the first round on his home turf of Beijing in 2008 due to an Achilles tendon injury. Liu suffered the same fate in London, again injuring himself on the first hurdle of the first round. But he picked himself up and, hopping on one foot, he finished the race, only stopping to kiss the last hurdle.

For Liu, the reaction at home has been remarkably different this time as he became the subject of sympathetic headlines. He may never see another Olympics, diminishing his marketability going forward, but his poignant farewell will ensure opportunities in his native land in the near future.

8. Oscar Pistorius, Runner

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Photo: Getty Images

Oscar Pistorius will not be going home to South Africa with a medal, but the sprinter made history in London as the first double-amputee to compete in the Olympics.

Nicknamed the Blade Runner for the L-shaped carbon blades he runs on, Pistorius leaves London as one of the most-talked-about athletes of any Olympic games. The fact that he finished last in his two events doesn’t matter. The Olympics is about inspiration, and Pistorius delivered that in spades.

He already counts Nike among his sponsorship deals as well as UK telecom company BT, Oakley sunglasses and Thierry Mugler fragrances. With his profile raised even higher, he will continue to be sought after.

7. Ryan Lochte, Swimmer

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Ryan Lochte talked a good game about knocking Phelps off his perch, heading into the 2012 Olympics but never lived up to his own hype. Still, he’s a household name, winning five medals in London and saying he’s aiming to win more medals in Rio. If Phelps keeps true to his promise to stay out of the pool, Lochte will head to Rio as the undisputed king of USA swimming.Lochte already has deals in place with more than a half a dozen sponsors, including , , and . He is also reportedly being approach
Photo: Frederic J. Brown | AFP | Getty Images

Ryan Lochte talked a good game about knocking Michael Phelps off his perch heading into the 2012 Olympics, but he never lived up to his own hype. Still, he’s a household name, winning five medals in London and saying he’s aiming to win more in Rio. If Phelps keeps true to his promise to stay out of the pool, Lochte will head to Rio as the undisputed king of USA swimming.

Lochte already has deals with more than a half a dozen sponsors, including Gatorade, Speedo, Gillette and Ralph Lauren. He is also reportedly being approached by Hollywood to star in a reality TV show.

Lochte may not have made good on his mission to dethrone Phelps, but he creates buzz with his brash attitude and good looks, and that will continue to make him a hot marketing commodity entering 2016.

6. Mo Farah, Runner

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Mo Farah's win in the 10,000-meter race on Aug. 4 was the third and final gold medal on “Super Saturday,” sending the host nation into an Olympic frenzy and putting Farar on the front pages of newspapers across the U.K. Farah struck gold again a week later in the 5,000-meter race, becoming only the seventh man to win gold in both races. Sebastian Coe, a runner who won multiple Olympic medals and became chairman of the London Organizing Committee, told the London’s Daily Mail newspaper that “(Far
Photo: Getty Images

Mo Farah's win in the 10,000-meter race on Aug. 4 made him the third of three British athletes to win gold within a span of 44 minutes. That “Super Saturday” moment sent Britain into an Olympic frenzy and put Farar on the front pages of newspapers across the U.K.

Farah struck gold again a week later in the 5,000-meter race, becoming only the seventh man to win gold in both races. Sebastian Coe, a runner who won multiple Olympic medals and became chairman of the London Organizing Committee, told London’s Daily Mail newspaper that “(Farar) will go down indelibly in British track and field as probably the greatest athlete we have produced.”

There’s also talk Farar could be headed for knighthood. He has sponsorship deals with Nike and Lucozade, but the buzz he created this summer has British sports marketers predicting Farar could earn more than $2 million a year leading up to Rio de Janeiro.

5. Jessica Ennis, Heptathlete

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The pressure to perform in the Olympics can be tough for any athlete, but imagine being the athletic face of the nation hosting the Olympic Games. Such was the pressure facing Jessica Ennis, who had a sponsor, , go so far as to paint her image on a field close to Heathrow Airport with the words "Welcome to Our Turf." Ennis lived up to the hype, winning gold in the heptathlon, as part of a moment dubbed “Super Saturday” in Britain — when three British athletes won gold in a span of 44 minutes. In
Photo: Getty Images

The pressure to perform in the Olympics can be tough for any athlete, but imagine being the athletic face of the nation hosting the Games. Such was the pressure facing Jessica Ennis, who had a sponsor, British Airways, go so far as to paint her image on a field near Heathrow Airport with the words "Welcome to Our Turf."

Ennis lived up to the hype, winning gold in the heptathlon, as part of “Super Saturday.”

In addition to BA, Ennis also has deals with Jaguar, Coca-Cola-owned Powerade, Aviva and Olay, but she is likely to reach a new level after London. Some British sports marketing experts predict Ennis could earn $3 million a year in the lead-up to Rio.

4. Usain Bolt, Sprinter

Usain Bolt
Photo: Robert Michael | AFP | Getty Images

When the conversation focuses on where an athlete falls on the Olympic “legend” scale, there will be no shortage of companies looking to attach themselves to Jamaica's Usain Bolt. As the world’s fastest man heading into the London, Bolt was already one of the Olympics’ brightest and most marketable stars, and by some estimates he earned more than $20 million in the year leading up to the London Games.

Bolt's primary sponsor is German sportswear company PUMA, which pays him $9 million a year. He also has deals with Gatorade, Swiss watchmaker Hublot, Virgin Media, Visa and Nissan Motor, among others. Another four years as the world’s fastest man, Bolt will remain a hot commodity even if he opts not to participate in Rio de Janeiro.

CORRECTION: An earlier version incorrectly said Bolt's primary sponsor was Adidas. 

3. Gabby Douglas, Gymnast

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Gabby Douglas epitomizes how a medal-winning performance in the Olympics can turn an athlete from an unknown to an international star in just minutes. The gymnast wasn’t even on the U.S. Olympic team until March, a time when most Olympic sponsors have already signed their athletes. Douglas did get a couple of quick deals with and before London, but her sponsorship slate remains wide open. Don’t expect it to remain that way for long. With a smile as bright as the gold medal she earned in all-arou
Photo: Getty Images

Gabby Douglas epitomizes how a medal-winning performance in the Olympics can turn an athlete from an unknown to international star in just minutes. The gymnast wasn’t even on the U.S. Olympic team until March, a time when most Olympic sponsors have already signed their athletes.

Douglas did get a couple of quick deals with Procter & Gamble and Kellogg before London, but her sponsorship slate remains wide open. Don’t expect it to remain that way for long.

With a smile as bright as the gold medal she earned in all-around gymnastics, Douglas is not only a hot commodity but an available one in the wake of the London games.

2. Missy Franklin, Swimmer

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If Michael Phelps leaves the swimming pool behind, there’s another swimmer ready to take that spotlight. Seventeen-year-old Missy Franklin is poised to be the new face of USA Swimming. Franklin cemented herself as a swimming star in London, with four gold medals, including a world record in the 200-meter backstroke. She is entering her senior year in high school and says she plans to compete with her high school team before heading to college and the NCAA. Remaining an amateur means Franklin is
Photo: Getty Images

If Phelps leaves the swimming pool behind, there’s another swimmer ready to take that spotlight. Seventeen-year-old Missy Franklin is poised to be the new face of USA Swimming.

Franklin established herself as a swimming star in London, with four gold medals, including a world record in the 200-meter backstroke. She is entering her senior year in high school and says she plans to compete with her high school team before heading to college and the NCAA.

Remaining an amateur means Franklin is leaving anywhere from $1 million to $2 million on the table right now, but you can bet sponsors will be knocking on her door before the 2016 Games. As a swimmer, Franklin has a long Olympic career in front of her, and sponsors will need to pay a premium when the time comes for her to give up amateur status.

1. Michael Phelps, Swimmer

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The king stays at the top. London 2012 cemented Michael Phelps' legacy as one of the all-time global sports icons. Phelps leaves London with staggering career numbers — a record 22 metals, 18 of them gold.The swimmer says he’s hanging it up and won't compete in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games. Many of his endorsement deals with the likes of , , and run through 2016. So even if he’s not in the pool, the most-decorated Olympian of all time will remain a top marketing force the next four years.
Photo: Thierry Zoccolan | AFP | Getty Images

The king stays at the top. London 2012 cemented Phelps' legacy as one of the all-time global sports icons. Phelps leaves London with staggering career numbers — a record 22 metals, 18 of them gold.

The swimmer says he’s hanging it up and won't compete in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games. Many of his endorsement deals with the likes of Speedo, Visa, Omega and Nike run through 2016. So even if he’s not in the pool, the most-decorated Olympian of all time will remain a top marketing force the next four years.