The Olympics have always been the most powerful creator of athletic household names. The World Cup and Super Bowl are in the same category. Television builds the athlete's back story, and millions of viewers who don't follow these sports normally are caught up in the drama and pageantry. The audience transcends hardcore fans and creates household names. The athletes are young and fresh-faced and generally display the best in fundamental values. National pride is a heavy factor in attracting a huge audience. Athletes who perform well in critical situations and have an interesting story are catapulted post-games into a celebrity-making machine of talk shows and print press.
Athletes and their agents prepare an endorsement profile far in advance of the Games. They are in contact with corporations and sponsors that might want to feature the athlete in advertising done during the Games or after. Marketing decks and presentations extolling individual athletes sit in the hands of key executives. Sometimes an unexpected athlete grabs center stage, as did gymnast Kerri Strug in 1996. We had to move rapidly to strategize how to keep her profile high as the games faded in memory.
Here are U.S. athletes with the best chance to star-build in the Rio Olympics:
10) Sam Mikulak: Gymnastics
Talented and rugged, and he's from Newport Beach.
9) U.S. Men's Basketball Team
Too many superstars to list. These are pros, and the competitions are one-sided. The fact they are representing the country shows character and will enhance an already endorsement-laden group.
8) Allyson Felix And LeShawn Merritt: Track
Felix is the best known face in women's track and has an interesting story. Merritt has a chance to win two gold medals. Men's track and field is traditionally an American stronghold, but individual stars have yet to emerge.
7) Nathan Adrian And Caeleb Dressel, Swimming:
The next generation of talented men's swimmers have a chance to emerge. In photo above, Adrian and Dressel flank Ryan Held and Michael Phelps after winning goal in freestyle relay.
6) Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman And Laurie Hernandez: Gymnastics
These women all have interesting stories, and their enthusiasm and camaraderie jump off the television screen. America will fall in love with these young superstars.
5) Kerri Walsh-Jennings And April Ross: Beach Volleyball
Kerri Walsh has a new partner in April Ross, and their pairing is dynamic.
4) Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan And Christen Press: Soccer
The U.S. team may win gold, and these three women are telegenic and talented. Here is Press practicing yoga.
3) Michael Phelps: Swimming
The all-time medals winner in Olympic history is back, and he's closing out his career in spectacular fashion. He went through tough times and has bounced back. Under Armour, Subway, Visa, Power Bar, AT&T Wireless, and Speedo are a few of his deals.
2) Katie Ledecky: Swimming
Another familiar face who may dominate the pool events. Charming and likable.
1) Simone Biles: Gymnastics
The women's team dominated the competition, and this pretty, charismatic star may win the gold for individual all-around. She has deals with Nike, Core Power and GK Elite Sportswear, and will have many more.
NBC Sports and the way in which it showcases stars and competitions is the major factor in the development of post-Olympic stars. Some stars not listed above will undoubtedly end up taking center stage during these two weeks.
-- 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.