Athletes Are Cashing in on Olympic Sponsorship

Article excerpt

Byline: PETERSHARKEY

According to some reviewers, deep within his autobiography, Life, Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards suggests that the lyrics to Start Me Up refer primarily to cocaine and the, ahem, regenerative effects the Class A drug had on him.

Less analytical folk consider it a song about cars, or even motorbikes, but most people have never been in much doubt that whatever it's underlying message, it's one of the Stones' raunchiest, sexually-infused recordings ever released. It also happens to be an outstanding rock n' roll number and the first the band allowed to be used for advertising purposes - Microsoft paid them a reported $11 million to use the song as part of its Windows 95 marketing campaign.

Ironically, car manufacturer Ford used it in 2003 and now, as part of their Olympic marketing thrust, watch-maker Omega has paid $550,000 for the tune to feature as background music in the company's worldwide television commercials.

Omega, the Olympic Games' official timekeeper, have deemed the Stones to be London's most representative band, hence their licensed usage of Start Me Up in a series of ads highlighting athletes' "... delicate posture before the critical moment. For every athlete, every minute and second of this critical moment will determine its overall arena performance."

Omega's most expensive-ever commercial features Chinese diver Qiu Bo, American swimmer Natalie Coughlin, American athlete Tyson Gay, South African swimmer Chad Le Clos as well as US pole vaulter Jennifer Sur.

It almost goes without saying that Olympic heptathlete and British golden girl Jessica Ennis features too.

Omega are one of the 26-year-old's eight major sponsors that will pay her in excess of pounds 1 million this year. Should she strike gold at the Games, that figure will at least treble over the following 12 months.

Adidas are the Sheffield-based athlete's most valuable sponsor - their contract is worth pounds 320,000 annually, but while the likes of Jaguar, Olay, BA, Aviva (for whom she works six days a year), Powerade and BP pay smaller retainers of between pounds 100,000 and pounds 150,000 a year, most include a bonusrelated clause exercisable should Ennis clamber to the top of the Olympic podium in a few weeks' time.

While Ms Ennis has become almost ubiquitous on TV, in newspapers and magazines as the unofficial face of the 2012 Games, a sizeable volume of British female athletes have followed in her wake. Cyclist Victoria Pendleton is expected to clear more than pounds 900,000 this year from endorsements and sponsorship deals with companies including Adidas, Halfords, Pantene, Samsung and EDF.

Meanwhile, swimmer Keri-Anne Payne will see her sponsorship earnings rise from last year's pounds 300,000 to almost pounds 500,000 after concluding deals with Max Factor, Oral-B, Speedo and British Gas, amongst others.

Jim Hardie, chief executive of sports marketing firm Apex, believes the growth in the number of female athletes promoting a variety of products highlights a very basic advertising fact.

"Females are the key decision makers in 99% of household purchasing and the most important consumer group of all," he observes. "In recent times, they've also become increasingly supportive of sport and, as Britain's women's Olympic team comprises a significant number of telegenic females, it's understandable why companies would want to feature them in their advertising campaigns."

Mr Hardie's analysis accounts for several comparatively unknown Brits such as Jenna Randall and Laura Bechtol Sheiner concluding endorsement deals with Braun, BMW, Visa and Eurostar.

Both will benefit to the tune of between pounds 100,000 - pounds 150,000 this year.

Of course, such payments pale when compared with what the very top male athletes will earn from sponsors during an Olympic year. …