USA Today - Got Olympic gold, good story? Sponsors want you

Gymnast Gabby Douglas, track star Allyson Felix and swimmers Ryan Lochte and Missy Franklin. They're already big names that you'll be hearing more about in coming weeks.

They're also the Olympic athletes that sports marketing experts identified as potential winners in the world of endorsements — if they win gold at the London Games.

But one twist to the story is that Franklin, a world champion at 17 who plans to compete in seven events in London, says she wants to swim in college. She has passed up endorsement deals because she doesn't want to give up her NCAA eligibility.

"I don't think you could put a dollar amount on it," said Evan Morgenstein, President and CEO of Premier Management Group, of Franklin's marketing potential. "Over the next four years, she could be the highest paid Olympic athlete in the United States."

Bob Dorfman, executive creative director of Baker Street Advertising, estimates Franklin could command a seven-figure salary. "For somebody like her who is the darling of the women's team and seems to be the one who is going to come away with the most medals, you're giving up a couple million dollars in opportunities at least."

While 530 U.S. athletes will be competing in London, only a few will be able to cash in on their successes immediately after the Games.

That's because most sponsorship deals are signed about a year in advance, according to sports marketing experts. America's attention on the Olympics evaporates quickly. Sponsors prefer to have athletes signed that they can use in advertising campaigns in the months leading up to the Games.

Only the biggest stars will find themselves with new endorsement opportunities in August. Decathlete Ashton Eaton, who set the world record at the track and field trials, was also mentioned as somone who could make a splash with corporate sponsors.

Provided an athletes wins his or her event, a post-Olympic sponsorship would likely draw six figures.

"Anywhere from $100,000 to $500,000 is probably the normal range," said sports marketing expert Darin David, account director at The Marketing Arm.

A gold medal is almost a prerequisite for post-Olympic marketing success, but it's not the only thing, Dorfman said. A winning personality, a tale of overcoming personal odds and the potential to compete at several Games can also boost an athlete.

"The Games is more (than) about just the success on that day in the Olympics," said John Lewicki, head of global alliances at McDonalds. "It's about the journey. It's about the association and developing who they are and again really matching up to our values and what we do and how we give back to the community."

The personal stories — and the ones that get the most attention during NBC's coverage — are the biggest factor in influencing who gets rich, says Morgenstein, who represents swimmers Cullen Jonesand Jessica Hardy among other Olympians.

Lochte's tale would weave in his rivalry with Michael Phelps. Douglas could become the first African American to win the women's all-around gold. Felix has a chance to win her first individual gold in her signature event, the 200 meters, plus she's adding the 100 to her repertoire.

Without a compelling story, an athlete can get lost in the mix. "There's plenty of Olympians who have won gold medals that you don't see in commercials," said Peter Raskin, partner at The Legacy Agency, which represents Lolo Jones among other Olympians.

Another factor in play: whether an athlete plans to compete in future Olympics. Some companies will look to sign a budding star to a long-term deal.

But most will wait to sign on new Olympic talent. The good news is stories never expire, and athletes can continue to build their brand.

"There's no such thing as a former Olympian," said Rob Prazmark, the CEO of 21 Marketing. "They're Olympians for life."

USA Today