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Make Me Smart with Kai and Molly

Athletes cash in with Olympic gold

Marketplace Staff Aug 7, 2008
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TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: The Olympics aren’t supposed to be about politics, but of course they are.

They’re not supposed to be about money, either, but, of course they are.

Companies and countries spend millions or more on the Games, some of which eventually trickles down to the athletes.

American swimmers Michael Phelps and Dara Torres have already made their deals. We’ve got Diana Nyad here to talk about the rest of the pack.

Hi Diana.

Diana Nyad: Hi Kai.

Ryssdal: So listen, after Michael Phelps and Dara Torres, who do you like for sponsorship deals coming out of these games?

Nyad: There are a number of people, which we wouldn’t have said in other Olympics. BMX bike racing, for instance — first time ever in the Olympic Games. Now, agreed, that event will not pull a huge number in terms of television audience, but because the X Games and those young people, who as a general rule don’t watch much of the Olympics, will have BMX to watch, there’s a guy named Donny Robinson who is a favorite in the BMX racing. If he wins a gold in his niche sport, he’s going to cash in pretty well.

Ryssdal: Taekwondo, another new sport, right?

Nyad: It’s fairly new and there’s a Latino family, the Lopez family, two brothers and a sister, but Steven particularly, best fighter in his weight category. Minute Maid, AT&T, Coca-Cola, they like this guy because he represents the Latino population, growing at three times the average population in this country. If he takes that gold, if he stands on that medal platform with the Star Spangled Banner playing, believe me, there are going to be some very sweet contracts for Steven Lopez at the end of the games.

Ryssdal: Let me ask you about another swimmer: Cullen Jones, who’s gotten a decent amount of press and some sponsorships too.

Nyad: Cullen Jones has a number of sponsorships. Nike signed him to a seven year deal for close to $2 million, which for a basketball player isn’t much, for a swimmer is huge. He happens to be African American. There are a number of companies — Bank of America is one of his sponsors — who would love to be in that African American community more and they’re looking to Cullen Jones not to be the big multiple gold medal winner, because he won’t, but he’s the third African American in all of history to make a swimming team for the United States and so just him being there and representing the country well and maybe medaling in a relay could bring in a lot of money for this young man.

Ryssdal: What’s your guess as to shelf life for some of these sort of not mega-star athletes coming out of these games?

Nyad: Sponsors and agents feel it’s six months. Natalie Coughlin, for instance: Good example, when she came back from Athens. She was a big star in Athens…

Ryssdal: Swimmer.

Nyad: Swimmer, excuse me. She said three months the phone stopped ringing, people stopped recognizing her on the street. That’s about how long our attention span is these days.

Ryssdal: I have to ask you the “what if” question about Michael Phelps and Dara Torres. What happens to their marketability, I guess, if Michael Phelps “only,” I say with quotation marks, comes home with six golds and Dara doesn’t get the goal in her sprint.

Nyad: Well, let’s start with Phelps. If he doesn’t beat Mark Spitz’s seven record of golds, we will say, “Aw, what a disappointment. He was touted as being the greatest ever,” but in China, his agent did a very smart thing. Last year, he had Phelps — in 2007 — tour all of China and he was popular over there. Signed a big seven-figure deal with an electronics company and the Chinese will love him at the end of these games, even with only six gold, if that’s what he takes. Dara Torres, in my opinion, it doesn’t matter where she finishes. The woman’s 41, we love her and she can come home with no medal at all; she’s still going to be bankable.

Ryssdal: Diana Nyad and the business of sports. Thanks Diana.

Nyad: You’re so welcome.

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