By Mike Deak
WARSAW – I’ve always been a sucker for a water cooler conversation at work. Not necessarily about work, but in the traditional “Who’s better? Jordan or LeBron? Messi or Maradona or Ronaldo or Pele? Mangas or Marandet?“ It’s the song that never ends, and will get me every time.
Recently a work colleague, Val Tsoutsouris, brought up a bender that really got me thinking. “How many famous athletes got more endorsements after they retired?” It was a simple Twitter clickbait of sorts, one that wouldn’t have a right answer, one that really Val just wanted to opine about John McEnroe being in a commercial that was on a constant loop.
But for whatever reason, it got me thinking about the premise. To which I responded with a couple names of people that came across the top of my head. Mike Ditka, Charles Barkley and Joe Namath were three I immediately tossed out, all three currently in multiple TV commercials hawking whatever.
With the Olympics starting this week in earnest, and nearly all of these “amateur” athletes getting their shot at breaking out and making a big name for themselves, this conversation kind of applies into how we consume the Olympics. Most of the participants are people you’ve likely never heard of before with the exception of those who have had past success at the Olympic level. Olympic success often begets Olympic stardom. Which applies to Val’s original question.
How many of us remember Mary Lou Retton? It’s been close to 40 years since the ultra-talented gymnast was flying through gymnasiums as America’s Olympic darling. She was everywhere after hitting ‘the perfect 10’. And in 2021, she’s popping up selling Amberen, a menopause relief. Bruce Jenner? He may have been one of the undisputed greatest athletes on the planet in the 70s. Now Jenner has recreated into a familial brand in the Kardashians, figuratively and literally, as one of the most recognizable families on the planet and they are willing to shill nearly anything for a buck including Caitlyn and the family reality TV series.
Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Usain Bolt, Mckalya Maroney…the list goes on for former Olympic stars who are on our TV screens reminding us their greatness could be your almond milk or insurance policy.
So going back to the original question: does retirement bring more advertising? You could argue several have found newfound glory. The trick is do they have more after retirement, where yes, Peyton Manning does a lot of appearances, but he also had a ton while he played in the NFL. One of my coworkers brought up Mike Golic, and that’s a great one. Alex Karras and Bob Golic both got into TV after their football playing days, and this generation may only know Troy Aikman and Tony Romo as football analysts rather than Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks. Aikman has since appeared in spots for Rent-A-Center and Pro Flowers, Romo is in several clever Corona beer and Sketchers shoes ads. Another former football star, Marshawn Lynch, is finding himself in quite a few recent advertising campaigns, including Skittles, Frito-Lay and Subway. Joe Montana has done Sketchers shoes and Guinness beer commercials, awakening the echoes of his Notre Dame legacy.
Shaquille O’Neal did a lot of promo as an NBA star, but is on almost every public TV commercial break between Frosted Flakes, The General auto insurance, Papa Johns, Icy Hot and on and on. He’s got an argument for top dog for post-career advertising king.
John Madden came from another coworker, and he might be the clubhouse leader along with Ditka and Shaq. Madden has become a brand with the video game series, but also had products like ‘Tough Actin Tinactin’ foot spray and all of the Chunky Soup spots before the video game empire. Anything he could add his trademark “Boom!” to the punchline.
So as we consume the 2020 (2021) Olympic Games, keep in mind, many of these athletes aren’t just competing for gold medals and personal achievement, there could be just as much fame and exposure to keep them not only paid, but feed our consumptive habits and further their legacies.