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How much money will the Olympians rake in?

Saturday, 18 August 2012 - 4:49pm IST | Agency: The Daily Telegraph
Winning ways bring more gold for Olympians. They've won the medals. Now they can cash in on the sponsorship.

Sixty-six seconds. That's all it took for Usain Bolt to win three gold medals, break a world record and cement his reputation as the greatest athlete ever. But as the excitement of the Olympics fades, Bolt and his agent will be busy calculating exactly what those 66 seconds are worth.

The 25 year-old already has lucrative sponsorship deals with brands including Puma (pounds 2.5 million a year), Gatorade (up to pounds 3 million) and Virgin Media (pounds 2 million). Before the Games, he made about pounds 200,000 for one-off track appearances, with bonuses every time he won a race. But Bolt's performance at London 2012 will send his fortune stratospheric. Experts say the Jamaican sprinter's income could rise from pounds 12.7 million to pounds 32 million a year. That's pounds 485,000 for every second he was on the track.

Bolt's phenomenal earnings are partly down to his global fame. Few - if any - stars of Team GB were known internationally before the Olympics. Jessica Ennis was one of the biggest earners, making pounds 1 million a year as the face of Olay, while Mo Farah's deal with Lucozade brought him around pounds 500,000. Other athletes' incomes were more modest - long jumper Greg Rutherford's sponsors included an insurance broker in Bedford and his local rotary club.

Thanks to Britain's gold medal haul, all this will change. Sponsors, advertisers and management teams are now swarming around the stars of Team GB. A month ago, many of them were nobodies; now they are the faces of the most successful sporting event in British history. So who will the biggest earners be?

Gold medal-winners will make the most money, predicts Nigel Currie, director of sports marketing agency brandRapport. "Ennis could probably earn pounds 3.5 million a year from sponsorship and media appearances; and Farah could get up towards pounds 2.5 million," he says. "Rutherford will do well, as will Sir Chris Hoy. But I don't think they'll make mega?millions."

Lesser-known medallists will also cash in. Laura Trott has been named one of the 10 most valuable Olympians by advertising agency M&C Saatchi. She has, along with silver medal-winning gymnast Louis Smith, reportedly been signed by Simon Fuller of XIX Entertainment. Boxing champion Nicola Adams was unknown before her win: according to American firm SponsorHub, her attractiveness to sponsors has risen by 25 per cent. "Traditionally, female athletes earn half of what men earn," says Bob Johnson, co-founder of SponsorHub. "But London 2012 [dubbed the 'Girl Power Games'] could change that."

However, because there are more British medallists (43 gold; 30 silver; 46 bronze) than in the past, brands will be selective about the personalities they want to pursue. "The medallists' earning potential has been diluted," explains Jamie Wynne-Morgan, managing director of M&C Saatchi Sport and Entertainment. "In previous years, the likes of Sir Steve Redgrave and Denise Lewis were in the minority when they did well. This year, there are too many for each of them to make millions."

It's unlikely that British athletes will earn the sums racked up by global stars like Bolt, Michael Phelps or Roger Federer. Phelps, who has 11 US sponsors, will earn nearly pounds 65 million over his lifetime through sponsorship. Federer has a fortune of pounds 39 million, mostly from vast prize monies. London 2012's stars are more likely to earn six-figure sums, says Simon Chadwick, professor of sport business strategy at Coventry University. "Athletes who earn millions are those who participate in North America and in sports broadcasts around the world. They're footballers, tennis players or in motorsport; not the heptathlon."

The UK tax system could also limit athletes' earning power. This week, Bolt announced he won't run here again until our top tax rate, which sees his track appearance fees taxed at 50 per cent, is lowered. While few British Olympians reached the pounds 150,000 threshold in the past, there is a risk the tax rate could now drive high-earning athletes overseas.

So how can Olympians maximise their income? Advertisers are looking for a unique selling point, explains Alan Seymour, senior lecturer in marketing at the University of Northampton. "You've got to stand out," he says. "Greg Rutherford wasn't even a national star before he got his gold medal, but after his win the media picked up on his finger pose and endearing smile. Analysts suggested his earnings could triple [to pounds 1.5 million]. It's the same with the 'MoBot' and Usain Bolt's lightning strike."

Being among the only ones to do well in your sport helps. Adams will almost certainly front a campaign for women's boxing, while Anthony Joshua, who won the men's super heavyweight gold, is set to make pounds 7 million before Rio, according to pension provider Scottish Widows, which compiled a list of athletes who will make money from London 2012. Ben Ainslie, the most successful Olympic sailor ever, could rake in pounds 5 million, while cyclist Bradley Wiggins will make pounds 2.6 million on top of his pounds 1.2 million contract with Team Sky.

Tom Daley has his popularity on social networks to thank for the pounds 4 million he could earn in the next four years. The 18-year-old swimmer has 1.5 million followers on Twitter, and his smartphone app, Dive, was downloaded 420,000 times during the Games. "To have a true commercial impact, you need a million-plus individual fans," explains Jamie Cunningham, Daley's agent and founder of Professional Sports Group. "Tom has probably the biggest digital platform of any Olympian worldwide."

And then there's television. Victoria Pendleton, Rebecca Adlington and Beth Tweddle have been linked with Strictly Come Dancing, while American swimmer Ryan Lochte will appear in teenage drama 90210. Others, following sports pundits like Michael Johnson and Ian Thorpe, will be snapped up by the BBC.

So what will the athletes do with their millions? Bolt's recent purchases include a pet cheetah and a beachfront villa in the Bahamas. Phelps plans to buy a racehorse. Will Farah go on a spree in Vegas or Daley snap up his first house? Probably not, says Wynne-Morgan. "Our Olympians are very wholesome characters. They are so dedicated to their sport. Some might be about to make millions, but I don't think it'll change them one bit."


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