It’s a truth universally acknowledged, but seldom talked about, that behind every giant head on a Wheaties box stands a cut-throat agent with a predatory gleam in their eyes. We all know that winning a medal can mean a lot for an Olympian financially. An athlete who already has endorsement deals can get big bonuses for a trip to the podium. A likable Olympian who’s been toiling in obscurity and surprises the world to take first can gain financial security and funding for the rest of their athletic career.
After the dust has settled and the tears have dried, the media often make a big fuss over which athletes managed to turn their victory into a paycheck, but rarely do we ever talk about the other party getting rich out of all of this.
Companies want winners with pretty faces and compelling stories to sell their products and the Olympics provide them an ample supply, but endorsement deals don’t just arrive to be signed on an athlete’s doorstep. When Gabby Douglas became the first African-American woman to win a gold medal in gymnastics at the 2012 London Olympics, it was her then-agent Sheryl Shade who hustled to get her $10 million worth of endorsement deals from Nintendo, Kellogg's, and Procter & Gamble, and a book deal from HarperCollins. And for the hard work of wheeling, dealing and connection calling, a sports agent or agency will collect a healthy cut of the deal they brokered - exactly how large depends on the specifics of the agreement.
The starting guns haven’t even begun to fire, and we won’t know for another few weeks which Olympians will be staring at us from the front of our cereal boxes, but with the single-mindedness of a 10-year-old collecting Pokemon cards, the top marketing agencies in the business have already snapped up almost all of 2014’s crop of medal hopefuls. Here are the firms primed to come out of Sochi with plenty of gold.
6 Stanton & Company - The Ladies of the Olympics
Team Roster: Brita Sigourney, Hilary Knight, Heather McPhie
Formed in 2006, what this firm lacks in history it makes up for in staunch idealism. Stanton & Company prides itself on promoting strong female role models and pairing them with women-focused and organic/natural brands. Team S&Co is strong.
Hilary Knight is part of the USA women’s hockey team, which has never gone home without a medal of some sort since women’s hockey was introduced to the Olympics. Brita Sigourney placed at the 2011 and 2012 X Games. Heather McPhie recently beat out fellow S&Co client Grete Eliassen to challenge for gold on the Moguls. Stanton & Company isn’t a huge firm, but a big win from any one of these women could mean big money. And any one of these athletes would be great role models.
5 The Legacy Agency - The Comeback Kids
Team Roster: Lolo Jones, Travor Marciano, J.R. Celski
The Legacy Agency is listed as the ninth most valuable sports agency in the world. The product of a merger between three smaller boutique agencies - The Agency, Legacy Sports Group and Peter Greenberg & Associates - The Legacy Agency has $638.1 million dollars worth of contracts currently active. While it usually deals primarily with golfers and baseball players, for Sochi, Legacy has picked up three compelling and highly ranked Olympians, all of whom have the makings of comeback success stories.
Speed skaters Marciano and Celski both returned to the top of their field after grisly, near career-ending injuries. Lolo Jones hopes that the third time's the charm and the Sochi winter Olympics prove more profitable after her disappointments in Beijing and London. As a mark of her marketability, running up to the 2012 Olympics, Jones had endorsement deals for ASICS, McDonald’s, Oakley, Red Bull and Proctor & Gamble.
4 IMG - The All-Americans
Team Roster: Meryl Davis & Charlie White, Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold, Lindsey Vonn
How do you guarantee that you’re representing the best figure skater in the U.S.A? You represent the top two candidates. IMG has a long, established history as a sports agency stretching back to 1960 and an apocryphal handshake between founder Mark McCormack and Jack Nicklaus. In more recent years, the company has gone through an ownership reshuffle and lost athletics starts like Shaun White, but looks primed to make gain some ground with its 2014 candidates.
Their roster is bursting with all-American talent. Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner are top-of-their-field figure skaters with beauty and charm enough to spare. Meryl Davis and Charlie White were the first-ever Americans to win gold in ice dancing at the world championships. Lindsey Vonn had been primed to dominate the Alpine skiing slopes before recently dropping out due to injury.
As for advertising potential, Gold and Wagner are already awash in endorsement deals from the likes of Cover Girl and Nike. Lindsey Vonn is well taken care of by industry giants such as Under Armour and Oakley. And, if they perform as well as speculators hope, Davis and White will soon be signing on the dotted line. Medal performances will increase the already flush incomes of this firm exponentially.
3 CAA - The Rockstars
Team Roster: Shaun White, Bode Miller, Julia Mancuso, Rosalind Groenewoud
You probably recognize the names in CAA’s client roster. Listed as the wealthiest sports management company in the world, CAA picks up superstars. Shaun White made the leap to CAA from his former management team of eight years, IMG, in 2010. Bode Miller made the jump shortly after winning gold at Vancouver 2010. Mancuso is a good bet to win in Alpine skiing. Groenewoud is favoured to bring home medals some of the first medal in this year’s debut sport, freeskiing. But what sets these athletes apart isn’t just their performance, it’s their personalities.
CAA’s clients have attitudes and interests beyond their sport. When he’s not snowboarding, White is part of a rock band, Bad Things. Mancuso was famous for modelling lingerie and executing her runs with a tiny tiara over her helmet. Miller is the bad boy of skiing. Groenewoud is a vintage-wearing, Rubik’s Cube-toting physics major. All of them have a little extra something, and it’s evident in the brand coverage they’re all getting.
2 Octagon - The All-Arounds
Team Roster: Kelly Clark, Hannah Teter, Jaime Anderson, Ty Walker, Nate Holland, Alex Deibold, Justin Reiter, Kikkan Randall, Lindsey Van
They’ve got 16-year-old snowboarder Ty Walker. They’ve got veteran snowboarder Kelly Clark, the only woman to attend four winter Olympics. They’ve got ski jumpers and cross country skiers. Lindsey Van, who sued the Vancouver 2010 Olympics for hosting men’s ski jumping but not women’s ski jumping, is a fire-brand. Snowboarder Hannah Teter is a fierce competitor and Sports Illustrated swimsuit model.
They’ve got every sort of Olympian with every sort of history that an ambitious brand could want. With a balanced roster like this, it’s no surprise that Octagon is the third-wealthiest sports agency in the world, clocking $2.02 billion worth in contracts as of 2013. Octagon is primed to profit.
1 Wasserman - The Scrappers
Team Roster: Sarah Hendrickson, Mikaela Shriffrin, Andrew Weibrecht, Eddy Alvarez, Kris Freeman, Torah Bright, Torin Yater-Wallace, Sage Kotsenburg
If you want an idea of the kind of athletes Wasserman went after, take Kris Freeman as an example. Though he’s one of the winning-est cross country skiers in the U.S., Freeman was cut from the national team in the spring of 2013. This meant he lost all his funding and his insurance, a bit of a problem when you’re a type 1 diabetic competing in high-level athletics. Despite all of this, Freeman qualified for the U.S. Olympic team on January 22nd.
All of the athletes on the Wasserman team have a similar level of fight. Despite only being 19-years-old, Sarah Hendrickson came back after a terrible ski jumping crash in Germany last August. Torin Yater-Wallace was one of the youngest athletes to ever compete in the X-games. Mikaela Shriffrin was dubbed “the next Lindsey Vonn” by Sports Illustrated. Torah Bright is the first snowboarder to qualify for three events in an Olympics. Look for these athletes on a giant billboard near you after Sochi.