Britain’s Jessica Ennis may be on her way to becoming the most marketable woman in world sport after her heptathlon gold confirmed her as the smiling face of the London Games.
A winning combination of looks, athleticism and warmth have made her the poster girl for the Games. The 26-year-old, whose father is originally from Jamaica, embodies the positive multicultural image that Britain’s leaders want to show to the world.
British Airways, one of her sponsors, have even painted a huge image of the athlete on a field close to Heathrow airport with the words “Welcome to Our Turf.”
There was always the risk her advisers were setting her up for a big fall, but Ennis thrived under pressure on Saturday night to surge to victory in the 800 metres, the last of her seven events in what is the ultimate test for a female athlete.
“She is set up for life,” sports marketing expert Patrick Nally told Reuters. “She is the epitome of the London Games. Winning at home has that extra kudos and she will be able to trade off it for many years,” he added.
Ennis had been expected to make around one million pounds this year but that figure will now be multiplied after a performance that will help sell her to the world.
“She is extremely marketable. She will be inundated and her management will need to make sure things are properly structured,” added Nally.
Current endorsements include Olay skincare products and Powerade sports drinks, made by Olympic sponsors Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola, respectively.
Ennis’s hometown, the northern English city of Sheffield, is famous around for the world for its steel products, part of Britain’s industrial heritage celebrated in Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony.
She trains in her home city and lives near her parents with her boyfriend and their pet labrador.
Part of her charm lies in her modesty in a country that is obsessed with celebrity - after her triumph, Ennis linked hands with her fellow competitors and bowed to the crowd, rather than milking the applause alone.
“She is unique in that she is the girl next door but has ability that the girl next door does not have,” said Danny Townsend of sports brand analysis company Repucom.
Townsend compared Ennis’ impact to that of Australian 400 metre runner Cathy Freeman, Australia’s first Aboriginal athletics champion who took gold in Sydney in 2000.
“She can become a beacon for success and the social fabric of the country in the way she handles herself, the way she appears,” he said.
“FROM STADIUM TO CATWALK”
German sportswear company Adidas has worked with Ennis for seven years. The Briton missed out on the Games in 2008 because of injury, giving her success in London even more emotional impact.
“She is one of those athletes who works for us from stadium to catwalk to street,” said Nick Craggs, UK Marketing Manager for Adidas.
Sprinter Usain Bolt is one of the few track and field gold medallists to have built international marketing appeal but Craggs believes Ennis can succeed where others have failed.
“She is one of the faces of women’s sport globally for Adidas,” he said.
“The awareness of who Jessica Ennis is and the understanding of her as an athlete and an individual has gone up a few notches on the global scale.”
But when it comes to earnings, even Ennis will struggle to close a gender gap that sees male tennis players, golfers, Formula One drivers and soccer stars get paid far more than their female counterparts.
No woman made it into the top 100 richest sports people in Britain and Ireland in a report published in May.
“Commercially, she stands to make a lot of money,” said Simon Chadwick, professor of sports marketing at Coventry University in central England.
“She will be a rich woman but she is not going to go stratospheric and make the mega bucks of a (David) Beckham or (Roger) Federer.”