Why The Biggest Brands Love Olympic Winners

Julia Marino won Team USA’s first medal at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, and the 24-year-old has become a master at building her brand along the way.

Entering the competition, the snowboarder was a seven-time X Games medalist, but she wasn’t widely known outside of action sports. After winning the silver medal in women’s slopestyle — then battling the International Olympic Committee over her trendy Prada snowboard — she returned to the U.S. with a higher profile than ever before.

“Julia Marino Rides In Style With $3,600 Prada Snowboard,” reported NBC’s Today. GQ highlighted her as a leader of the “Fashion Olympics.” Women’s fashion platform Hypebae declared her cherry red and white snowboard the “coolest.”

“I think it’s awesome that [luxury brands like Prada] are getting into snowboarding and action sports,” Marino told Front Office Sports from Beijing. “I’m happy to be one of the athletes that represents that kind of brand.”

So goes the transformative power of the Olympic rings.

Over 125 million U.S. viewers have watched some of NBC Sports’ Winter Olympics coverage. While final numbers are not in for Beijing, more than 3 billion viewers tuned in globally for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

After Sunday’s Closing Ceremony, a handful of Olympians are poised to score major endorsement deals.

The Daredevil Wears Prada

Media coverage surrounding Marino’s snowboard and goggles generated $9.8 million worldwide in equivalent brand value for Prada, according to Apex Marketing Group.

The Westport, Connecticut native’s one-year deal with Prada is up in a few weeks, though it’s expected that their relationship will move forward.

With her Italian-American heritage, Marino would be a natural brand ambassador for Prada when the 2026 Winter Olympics comes to the fashion’s house’s hometown of Milan, Italy.

“Prada is absolutely over the moon with her,” said her agent, Claudia Cusano of Dulcedo Management in Montreal. “They love having her on the team, especially with the amazing press they’re getting from these Olympics. It looks like a renewal is imminent.”

Beyond Prada, Marino is drawing interest from automotive, restaurant, and insurance sponsors, according to Cusano.

Mountain Dew’s Olympic Campaign

As a brand for younger consumers, PepsiCo’s Mountain Dew is heavily invested in action sports.

The brand sponsors snowboarders like Marino, Danny Davis, and Red Gerard, as well as the Dew Tour extreme sports circuit.

Gerard claimed the first gold medal for Team USA at the 2018 PyeongChang Games. Marino has endorsed Mountain Dew since 2017.

During the pandemic, she built a rail park to practice in the backyard of her Quebec — yes, she trained in Canada — home. Now Mountain Dew’s planning a campaign around her next backyard snowpark dubbed “The Rail Garden.”

“We love to work with our sponsored athletes on authentic marketing projects that they are passionate about,” said Matthew Nielsten, senior director of Mountain Dew Brand Marketing at PepsiCo.

It’s Bigger Than Winning

The IOC forced Marino to draw over the Prada logo on the bottom of her snowboard with a Sharpie before the women’s big air finals. But the alterations slowed her down — leading to a painful crash and her injury withdrawal from the Games.

The global press was scathing toward the IOC. “US Star Julia Marino Exposes Olympics Farce That Forced Her To Quit Mid-Event,” read the headline on an Australian news site.

Win or lose, Olympic stars can become iconic for causes beyond athletics.

Despite withdrawing from the Tokyo Olympics, Simone Biles was named TIME’s 2021 Athlete of the Year for her willingness to speak up about her struggles with mental health. She followed 28-time medalist Michael Phelps, who once admitted to wondering if he should “end it all.”

Gay Olympian skiier Gus Kenworthy was hailed as a “prominent LGBTQ+ figure” when he and Marino signed with Prada last year. U.S. sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson scored deals with Beats by Dre and Apple Music after being disqualified from Tokyo for testing positive for marijuana, a ruling that drew considerable backlash.

Similarly, Marino’s underdog fight with the IOC “has earned her more attention and name recognition than just a silver medal would have,” noted sports marketing expert Bob Dorfman.

“This story should have legs — and the longer it goes, the better for her marketability. Figure [Marino] will be a fairly hot commodity post-Games for talk shows, speaking engagements, book deals, and the like.”

OMEGA Bets On Olympians

Few brands can match the Olympics track record of OMEGA. The Swiss luxury watch-maker has been the official Olympic timekeeper for 30 years and signed stars like Phelps, Shaun White, and Nathan Chen.

OMEGA was canny enough to sign a young Phelps before he became the most decorated Olympian of all time.

When signing brand ambassadors, OMEGA President and Chief Executive Officer Raynald Aeschlimann looks more for character than social media followings. They don’t have to win gold either to represent the OMEGA brand.

“They represent us because we’re not an arrogant brand. We’re a brand that represents hard work,” he said.

The Lucky 5%

But for every Phelps, speedskater Erin Jackson, or snowboarder Chloe Kim, there’s thousands of Olympians who return home to obscurity and low-paying jobs. Even medalists can struggle.

Figure skater Debi Thomas, the first Black athlete to medal in the Winter Olympics in 1988, was forced to sell that medal and shut down her medical practice due to bankruptcy. After winning a bronze medal in judo at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, future UFC star Ronda Rousey was so broke she wound up living out of her Honda Accord while she saved money for an apartment.

Many of those who wilt under the Olympic glare are labeled all-time busts. Just ask decathletes Dan O’Brien and Dave Johnson: stars of Reebok’s ill-fated “Dan and Dave” ad campaign before the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

“You have the haves and the have-nots,” warned Rob Prazmark, president of 21 Marketing. “The haves are maybe 5% of the notables. The other 95% are in sports that are not high-profile. Or they do well — but not that well.”

‘Opens Doors’ For Life

Tyler George knows the Olympic experience. He won the 2018 gold medal for curling before becoming a commentator at NBC.

Even if they don’t end up on a Wheaties box, just being an OIympian helps “open doors,” he said.

“That’s the biggest thing. It’s not that all these opportunities just come to your doorstep. But it gives you a platform by which to get in those doors,” George said. “It does create opportunities, as long as you go find them yourself.”






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