The Most Marketable Athletes at the 2015 Pan Am Games
The Pan Am Games came to a close last week, completing over two weeks of international athletic competition. Despite initial public scrutiny over the Games, Pan Am was well received in Toronto and throughout the country. There were over one million tickets sold and over the course of the games, two thirds of Canadians watched some part of the Pan Am Games.
The Games received a boost in profile as they were hosted in one of the largest media markets in North America. While the Pan Am Games pale in comparison to the marketing value the Olympics provide, this added attention provided a great platform for athletes to showcase their abilities and introduce themselves to the Canadian public. It also provided potential sponsors with an opportunity to scout athletes that could be utilized in marketing efforts leading up to next year’s summer Olympics. With that in mind, MKTG has picked the five most marketable athletes that participated at the Pan Am Games.
Ellie Black- Gymnastics
Ellie Black is a gymnast from Halifax, Nova Scotia that has competed at multiple international competitions. With 336,000 Canadian youth participating in gymnastics, Black has emerged as the most talented Canadian in one of the country’s largest grassroots sports. Black was one of only two five-medal winners at this year’s Pan Am Games, including three gold medals. At 19 years old, Ellie Black is in the prime of her gymnast career. However, gymnasts’ competitive career usually end shortly after they turn 20. This means next year’s Olympics will likely be the last for Ellie Black. Marketers will have to move quickly to capitalize when Black competes at next year’s Olympics. Coming out of the 2012 London Olympics, US gymnasts like Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman emerged as some of the biggest Olympic stars, going on to ink deals with brands like Kellogg’s. Black will be hoping to earn a similar status in Canada.
Andre DeGrasse- Track
Andre DeGrasse is a junior at the University of Southern California who competes on the school’s track team. He has been called the future of Canadian track and is expected to compete at the 2016 Olympics. DeGrasse can be highly attractive to marketers as sprinters tend to become some of the more recognizable athletes that emerge from Olympic Games. In Canada, sprinters like Donavon Bailey still remain household names. Sprinters generally have a long career as Usain Bolt will compete in his third Olympics next summer at the age of 29, which gives the 20 year old DeGrasse the opportunity for a lengthy career. During the Pan Am Games, DeGrasse won the 100 meter and 200 meter races. Degrasse’s NCAA status has prevented him from any endorsement relationships with Canadian brands, however, he will likely be a target or Canadian sponsors entering Rio. Degrasse is highly active across social media, creating a brand extension platform for potential partners.
Taylor Pischke- Beach Volleyball
Taylor Pischke is a beach volleyball athlete who has competed at several international competitions during her short volleyball career. While she represented Canada at the Pan Am Games, she will likely not be participating at next year’s Olympics. Canada currently has two beach volleyball teams ranked in the top ten world standings, Pischke and her teammate are ranked 20th. This means Pischke has a long career ahead of her as she is only 22 years old and most beach volleyball teams that compete in the Olympics are between 28 and 35. With Pischke’s expected Olympic debut at the 2020 Olympics, sponsors will have to understand that she is a long-term play. Pischke has been featured in the Sportsnet’s 2013 Beauty of Sport Issue which provides athletes an opportunity to showcase themselves away from the playing field. This gives Pischke the opportunity to move into partnerships with brands non-endemic to volleyball, such as fashion brands. At the 2015 Pan-Am Games, Pischke participated to auto sponsor Chevrolet’s Power of Play activation and currently represents endemic volleyball brands while competing on the FIVB tour. Pischke is active in her community as well, working as a representative for Cvet’s Pets, an organization that pairs up veterans suffering from PTSD with service dogs.
Jamal Murray- Basketball
Jamal Murray is the latest high-profile basketball player to come out of Canada. He will attend the University of Kentucky next season year, a top-tier school in the United States that is known for preparing prospects for the NBA level. Murray will not only have a long future with the Canadian national team, but he is currently projected as a top-10 draft pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. At the Pan Am Games, Jamal Murray led the Canadian team to a silver medal finish, upsetting the American team along the way. Jamal Murray also won the MVP at the BioSteel All-Canadian Classic game featuring the country’s top high school talent. As Canada’s NBA talent like Andrew Wiggins and Tristan Thompson continue to expand their sponsor roster, Murray may represent the next endorser-of-choice for brands seeking to capitalize on the Canadian basketball renaissance.
Emily Overholt- Swimming
Emily Overholt is a 17 year old swimmer from British Colombia who has a bright future in the sport. Swimming is one of the more popular sports at Pan Am and Olympic Games, which gives Overholt a chance to become one of the more recognizable Canadian athletes for years to come. Overholt is just beginning her swimming career at 17 years old. Swimmers can compete into their thirties with the prime of their career usually taking place during the mid-twenties, creating a long-life cycle for Overholt to cash in on endorsement deals. At the Pan Am Games, Overholt won gold in the 400 m freestyle and silver in the 200 m freestyle. Overholt finished first at the 400 m individual medley at this year’s Pan Am games but she was later disqualified after it was found that she did not touch the wall simultaneously with both hands. Her resiliency to bounce back and earn another medal endeared her to the Canadian crowds and lead to a number of media profile opportunities that gave her a chance to greet the Canadian public outside of the pool.
Considerations for Corporate Sponsors
When Toronto was announced as the host city for the 2015 Pan Am Games, most of the competing athletes were too young to understand the notion of corporate sponsorship. However, all competitors were beneficiaries of the increased attention paid to games by the public and sponsors. All were a provided with a pre-Olympic brand building opportunity not typically afforded to Pan-Am athletes. While MKTG’s list of athletes saw a lift in their marketability at the Pan Am Games, sponsors must carefully consider the risks of investing in an athlete that achieved success in what has typically been a Tier-2 event.
Cyclical Interest- Amateur athletes experience peak awareness moments every four years at the Olympics. Brands must maximize their investment by finding relevant moments to use their sponsored athletes outside of major competitions. Post-Rio, a dark period for these athletes will likely ensure.
Risk of a Performance Narrative- Brands who define success by a medal count are exposing themselves to risk. Non-endemic brands must creative narratives and profile athletes based on their off-field behaviour and build a partnership based on shared values. CIBC has deployed this strategy with their Team Next program. CIBC supports 67 amateur athletes by providing grants and profiling them not on their athletic abilities but on their persona.
Category Competition- The national governing bodies for many of these sports hold existing partnerships with a variety of sponsors – some that may conflict with prospective brands seeking an endorsement relationship. This dynamic is particularly important in the apparel category where there can often be category conflicts between association and athlete deals.
Corporate sponsors will be monitoring the road to Rio during the next year, monitoring the performance of potential endorsers. Thanks to the Pan Am games, many of these athletes have been granted a platform to get on the radar of Canadian brands earlier than usual.