Merchandising and marketing are as old as when the Pilgrims made a meal for the Indians and the Indians supplied the corn. The art of commerce even saw the use of trinkets, craft items, artifacts and food as a way of barter.
Ever since there have been sports celebrities, there have been marketers in the form of Agents, Managers and Companies willing to have their product endorsed by a well-known name.
Back in 1912 it was different story. Jim Thorpe one of the world's all-time great Olympians, (he won both the Decathlon and the Pentathlon, an unbelievable feat) was forced to give back his medals because he had played two seasons of semi-professional baseball before competing in the Olympics.
30 years after his death in 1983, the IOC restored his medals. By then, the late George Steinbrenner tired of other countries calling themselves amateurs when in actuality all their athletes were paid to train on a full time basis, led a movement to allow professionals to compete in many of the sports disciplines. This move gave us a big boost toward victories.
However, the biggest lift came about due to politics... the disbanding of the USSR. If you look at the medal count in which we led by great numbers, you will see that if the Soviet Union still existed, the cumulative medal count would have put us in second place. However, since 1991 there has been no USSR and we are the beneficiaries.
We would not have heard of Bruce Jenner, because there was no monetary support. This longtime Ventura County Resident would never have established the decathlon world record in 1976 at 8634 points.
Bruce's wife at the time was able to support him, so that he could train full time. As a result, America had a new hero whose visage would for 7 years embrace the front of Wheaties, "The Breakfast of Champions".
Let's look at the recently concluded Olympics.
We should start by realizing a man I have known and worked with on many an occasion since 1971 has been solely responsible for the expensive rise of the Broadcast Rights Fees for the games. His name is Barry Frank and every 4 years he has asked for ever-increasing licensing fees. ABC and then NBC paid his price.
I believe any monetary reward that these athletes get is well earned. They have deprived themselves, in many cases for years, in order to compete for a miniscule amount of time. Most competitions will end in disappointment, but for those who achieve should be rewarded.
To these athletes just one-hundredth of a second can often separate gold from silver. It can make the difference between the cover of a Kellogs Box and comparative obscurity.
Look at Gymnastics. Prior to the games, everyone expected Jordan Wieber to win the All-Around Championship, the crown jewel of gymnastics. However, when she faltered, 17 year old Gabby Douglas was there to pick up the pieces and within 24 hours had signed a million dollar deal with Kellogs who stole Wheaties traditional thunder.
As great as they are, silver and bronze medals, evidence of dominance in a sport, have little, or no interest for corporate sponsors. This is only true in the United States. In smaller countries that are seldom on the intercontinental stage, any medal is a big accomplishment.
These athletes sacrifice a great deal just to make the team. Many do odd jobs and live hand-to-mouth for years. The gold Medal has to be considered the Trump card for endorsements.
It's interesting to note that actual metal values are: the Gold-$650, Silver-$335, and Bronze- $5. To the victors some financial aid comes in the form of $25,000...gold, $15,000... Silver, $10,000...Bronze.