Canadians athletes had a magical fortnight in Vancouver with a smashing performance in the 2010 Olympics that produced a bevy of heroes.
But more than three months after the Games, those gold medalists have been virtually invisible and it appears that their opportunity to capitalize on success has come and gone. So says two industry watchers, who note that Canadian medalists are not hawking products on television or adorning billboards throughout the country as one might expect.
"I think there's a window that's gone," said Anthony Abrahams, a principle with Vancouver firm Emblematica Brand Builders. "We didn't immediately put those heroes on a Wheaties box like you'd see with [gymnast]Mary Lou Retton out of the 1984 Olympics.
"I'm personally surprised, looking at the marketplace, that more companies didn't seize on that patriotism. That space didn't really get filled up. Many of those athletes would've been tremendous vehicles."
The Globe and Mail contacted nine Canadian individual gold medalists from the 2010 Games, including the two-woman bobsleigh team of Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse. Gold-medal-winning teams such as men's and women's hockey, men's curling, and relay troupes in speed skating and short track were excluded because their medals were not as immediately identifiable with one athlete.
Asked how much the medals would be worth to them in 2010, the athletes gave a range of responses, though most were in the low five-figures, with several responding $20,000.
Moguls champion Alexandre Bilodeau wouldn't provide specifics, but an informed source said he stood to earn about $200,000 this year. He and skeleton champion Jon Montgomery, who stands to make about the same, are the only gold medalists negotiating endorsement deals, and some athletes, such as speed skater Christine Nesbitt, do not even have agents.
Bilodeau's prospective earnings may look lucrative, but for comparison's sake, consider speed skater Cindy Klassen, the golden girl of the 2006 Olympics in Turin. Agent Elliott Kerr, who has been representing Canadian amateur athletes since 1983, said Klassen's income exceeded $1-million in the four-year period between Turin and Vancouver.
"We were all beaming with this enormous sense of pride when they were performing [in February]… it should continue," said the Mississauga-based Kerr, who represents a Who's Who of Canadian amateur athletes, but none of the individual medalists from Vancouver. "I would say it's two big factors: a) the economy, and b) the fact that all the companies that would've naturally spent, all overspent going into Vancouver."
Abrahams called corporate Canada's post-Games approach "less than inspired," and said that only "forward thinking" companies took advantage.
"It surprised me because of the energy and connection that everybody had to [the Olympics]" he said. "That energy source has dissipated and hasn't been seized upon by the market or the athletes. …There was no sense of urgency. They didn't keep the story alive."
Russell Reimer, a Calgary-based agent who represents Montgomery, snowboard champion Maelle Ricker and short-track superstar Charles Hamelin, said it is simply too early to calculate the commercial power of Canadian medalists. He said he is negotiating endorsement deals for Montgomery, and fielding many calls from prospective sponsors for all three athletes.
Reimer expects commitments come autumn when many companies enter new fiscal years, and when the winter sports season begins anew. He said there are two windows when corporations respond to the Olympics, and besides this fall, he expects another round of engagement to begin two years out from the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
"Companies in this country are starting to get it," said Reimer, the managing partner at Agenda Sports Marketing. "My feeling is things have really changed. The questions I'm getting aren't 'Why should we do this?' They're 'How can we do this.' "
But Abrahams said the fall is too late, and points to the VISA television commercials that ran during the Games, and were updated so quickly that the company was congratulating Canadian medalists just hours after their competitions concluded.