Over the course of the next few weeks, 205 nations will compete in the 2012 Olympic Games. With 10,000 athletes competing for 300 total medals, there are a lot of bragging rights to be made at these games.
But there’s also a lot of cash.
Between 11 basketball players, 5 tennis players, 4 soccer players, 3 boxers, and one track and field athlete, the total payout for the top 24 U.S. athletes is projected at $749 million.
The Games are expected to generate $15.7 billion for the British economy as a whole.
Major corporate sponsors like Proctor & Gamble roll out the red carpet for their athletes: the company has a facility in London to host families of U.S. athletes while they’re in town, even providing complimentary food, drink, laundry, and salon services. The athletes themselves often make more money from endorsements than from everyday competition, and brand recognition that begins at the Olympics can provide a springboard for lifelong earning.
Many athletes receive anywhere from one to four endorsements ahead of the Olympics on everything from face wash to sneakers to cars. English track and field star Jessica Ennis currently leads the female pack with eight total endorsements, including Jaguar, Powerade, and Omega, and she’s on course to earn more than $1.5 million on the year.
Her record-setting earnings are very fitting for 2012: these Games are being heralded as the Year of the Woman because it’s the first time in history that every single participating nation is sending at least one woman to compete.
American gymnast Gabrielle Douglas also stands to win big: the 16-year old is trying to become the first black female gymnast to win the all-around, a goal that’s already snagged her a huge deal with Procter & Gamble and set her up to earn seven figures in endorsements.
While Michael Phelps is an obvious choice for big deals, 23-year old American diver David Boudia already has deals with Visa, Coca-Cola and TD Ameritrade — and has been promised more if he stops rival China from sweeping the diving category.
Long in Phelps’ shadow, American swimmer Ryan Lochte provides brands with a much-favored (and very valuable) “underdog” story: he already holds deals with Speedo, Gillette, Gatorade, AT&T, and others for a total of $2.3 million this past year, but with his recent gold medal win over Phelps he could see that number multiply by the end of the Games.
And while these games are seeing a crop of new, young athletes securing huge deals, we can’t forget about the household names who will add even more cash to their bank accounts this month. Tennis star Roger Federer is the highest-paid Olympian with earnings of $54.3 million so far this year, an estimated $45 million of which is from appearances and sponsors, while the rest comes from prize money.
Lebron James tops the list, too, but his appearance at the Games is only a slice of a much bigger pie: Nike pays him and Kobe Bryant $15 million a year with royalties and sends both stars overseas for store openings and basketball clinics.
We all love a surprise winner, and Cinderella “come from behind” stories can make big bucks with sponsors, too. The classic example is American gymnast Mary Lou Retton, who became the first female athlete to grace the cover of a Wheaties box after her surprise gold medal in the individual all-around gymnastics competition, a first for an American woman. Keep an eye on the up-and-comers in this year’s swimming and sprinting categories for lucrative upsets like this one.
Of course we can’t have a major money story without controversy, and this year’s Olympics have seen their fair share of pushback against “Rule 40” — the International Olympic Committee policy which bars Olympic athletes from using their names or likenesses for advertising during the games. The committee, which says it pours 94% of its commercial revenue back into sports, says that the policy protects the money that comes into the Olympic movement.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to win gold to, well, win gold. The top earners at the Olympics usually have the trifecta: they’re well-spoken, good-looking, and in a “buzzy” or well-established sport.
But, okay— a dramatic gold medal finish can’t hurt.
Watch more of our Recessionista-in-Chief talking the biz of Olympic endorsement deals on The Insider!