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Athletes Use Olympics, Web Followers To Up Deals


And while the Olympic Games are over and the athletes have all headed home, the competition for athletes to turn their gold into gold by securing valuable endorsements is in full swing.

To talk to us about some of the big sponsorship deals that might be in the works, we're joined by Emily Steel, who covers media and marketing in New York for the Financial Times.

Good morning.

EMILY STEEL: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: We did have a couple of big stars going into the games - Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, these were really well-known names even before London. And with these guys, I mean they did spectacularly well, so what kind of money - what kind of compensation are they looking to get now? Is it a lot bigger than before?

STEEL: There is a group, its name is Sponsor Hub and they help to broker endorsement deals. And they've made these very interesting calculations of how much an athlete is worth. And the way that they decide this is they look at not only the athlete's performance on the field, but also their presence on social media and their personality. And what they estimated is that both Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt could earn as much as $50 million a year in endorsement deals.

MONTAGNE: By comparison, what about a breakout star like Gabby Douglas? What kind of endorsements would she be looking for now that she's, for the moment at least, a shining star, but unlike these other two, not in a sport that we hear about mostly other than the Olympics?

STEEL: Gabby Douglas is a very interesting example. So before the Olympics even started, most people didn't really know who she was. She was a 16-year-old who was very lucky to get a spot on the team, and during the games knockout performance really put her in the public eye. And one really interesting example is I wrote a story that mentioned her before the games, and at the time she had 29,000 followers on Twitter, and after the games, she has more than 600,000, so she's really become this brand-new name. And the fact that she is African-American and she has this wonderful personality is a type of person that a lot of marketers, a lot of brands would love to work with. But she also really needs to work quickly to strike any deals, because what we've seen in the past with Olympic athletes and gymnastic in particular, is that the window for those athletes to strike deals is very, very short.

MONTAGNE: You mentioned that Gabby Douglas had 29,000 followers before the games, and in the course of the games she collected and went up to 600,000. How much does social media mean these days, to sponsors - and exactly what does it mean? What does it say about the athlete that they feel they need to know?

STEEL: Marketing experts say that it's almost a revolution in endorsement deals. As marketers more and more work to be a part of the conversation that's happening on Twitter and Facebook and other social networking sites, they're really looking to see what the athlete's presence on Twitter and Facebook is. And so they're looking to see how many followers they have, how they engage with their fans, and the more that an athlete has this robust presence and personality on those sites, the more likely they are to stand out when they're looking out for more deals. But whether that translates into sales is something that a bunch of market research companies are scrambling to try to figure out right now.

MONTAGNE: Talking to us about spinning gold from Olympic gold, Emily Steel covers media and marketing for the Financial Times.

Thanks very much.

STEEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.