The Super Bowl week and game, the golden opportunity for marketing, is followed days later by the Sochi Winter Olympics. This presents another forum for great athletes with interesting personalities to propel themselves to crossover status.
NBC will be actively promoting and profiling the athletes to introduce a human-interest aspect to the competitions. If the right athlete interviews well and performs dramatically, he or she can do a series of post-Olympic mainstream media appearances that reaches beyond hardcore sports fans to a wider audience.
The difficulty with sustaining the Winter Olympics fervor beyond the week of competition is faced by all athletes. If they excel in a sport that will not be widely televised or promoted for another four years, it is hard to maintain profile.
When I helped Brian Boitano with marketing after his 1988 gold medal in ice skating, we had to be creative. Ice skating shows are very popular across the country. Brian was friendly with Katarina Witt, the women's gold medalist. Together we were able to hire a tour promoter and have them as partial owners of the tour. Brian wanted to do "Carmen On Ice" as a television special and it won an Emmy. Ice skaters have shown staying power -- from Peggy Fleming to Kristi Yamaguchi.
It is hard to predict which Americans will be breakout stars, but here are some athletes to watch:
1) Gracie Gold, an 18 year old figure skater. She won the U.S. championship in January. Ice skating, with music and graceful acrobatics, is the one sure forum for star building.
2) Shaun White, 27-year-old snowboarder, is the most recognizable figure on the American Olympic team. He has been an extreme sports fixture for a decade. This is a sport fraught with drama and misadventure.
3) Kelly Clark, 30-year-old snowboarder, is the most decorated action sports athlete ever. She has Olympic gold and bronze medals and 12 X games medals. She may have some new tricks.
4) Mikaela Shriffin (pictured), 18, looks to be the heir apparent to Lindsey Vonn in alpine skating. She won the world slalom medal at her first world championship last year.
5) Ted Ligety, 29, an alpine skating champion. He is a four-time World Cup champion in giant slalom, and a combined event gold medalist in 2006 Winter Games.
6) Zach Parise, a star in the NHL and captain of the U.S. team, which is looking to avenge its overtime loss to Canada in the 2010 gold-medal match.
Winter Olympic sports have elements of beauty, grace, power, speed and amazing athleticism. Most of America sees this type of competition but once every four years, with the exception of ice skating. The marketing challenge for these Olympians is to transcend the sport itself to become an American hero. These games are an outlet for American pride. Relations with Russia are the frostiest since the Cold War, Vladimir Putin is a frightening dictator, and the competition between the two countries promises to be intent.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @leighsteinberg.
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