For Sunisa “Suni” Lee and Caeleb Dressel, two stars of the Tokyo Olympics, the road to Paris 2024 is paved with riches.
Lee, 18, clinched her first gold medal on Thursday after delivering a courageous performance in the women’s gymnastics all-around final, an event Simone Biles was preferred to win before retiring, citing her sanity. Dressel, 24, added five gold medals to his trophy box (to go with the two he won at Rio 2016) and not only won the first Olympic swimming event, the 100-meter freestyle, but also allowed the American team to achieve victory. in the 4×100 medley relay. He is only the fifth swimmer to win five gold medals in a single Olympics, joining a star group that includes Michael Phelps and Mark Spitz.
In sports like gymnastics and swimming, winning gold medals on the world’s biggest stage is lucrative. Just ask Biles or Katie Ledecky, who turned their Olympic success into seven-figure wins. And now Lee and Dressel are ready to take it. In fact, Dressel already has the backing of at least seven companies, including Speedo, NOBULL and Hershey’s. The two could see their annual sponsorship income surpass $ 1 million next year, according to Forbes estimates, and it probably won’t end there.
“What they have is a short trail to Paris, and they have so much momentum right now that it could be worn over the next three years to add value to them,” said Lisa Delpy Neirotti, director of the sports management program at George Washington. University. “While four years is a long time, for whatever reason, the three-year cycle seems much more feasible and more commercially viable to keep them alive in the limelight.”
Originally from Saint Paul, Minnesota, Lee gained international notoriety after a personal tragedy. Just before she won gold on uneven bars at the 2019 U.S. Championships, her father fell from a ladder and became paralyzed from the chest down. A year later, she lost her aunt and uncle to Covid-19. Still, she continued, telling the new York Times in 2020, “I’m harder because of this.” In addition to his gold medal, Lee won team silver and bronze on uneven bars at Tokyo 2020.
Dressel, who grew up in Green Cove Springs, Florida, and swam at the University of Florida, stepped onto the podium five years ago in Rio. But he only swam in relay events and was greatly overshadowed by star teammates Michael Phelps, Ryan Held and Nathan Adrian. He didn’t waste the opportunity to show his talent this time around, setting either a world record or an Olympic record in his three individual events. âHer timing couldn’t be better, as fans were looking for a new star in the post-Phelps era,â said Delpy Neirotti.
But beyond their competitive success, Lee and Dressel fit into the mold of what Delpy Neirotti calls âthe ideal Olympian,â with brands naturally drawn to athletes who demonstrate humility, kindness and family values. After shedding a few tears of joy at the end of the all-around final while her family watched the celebration at home, Lee sought out silver medalist, Brazilian Rebeca Andrade, and congratulated her. Speaking to NBC after winning gold in the 100-meter freestyle on Wednesday, Dressel broke down in tears when the network videoconferenced his family on the show.
“People will remember him and sympathize with him,” says Delpy Neirotti. “A star like this is relatable to others as well, and when he breaks down and shows such emotion, he’s relatable.”
This Olympic and Paralympic cycle has also offered athletes and brands new marketing opportunities. Ahead of the Tokyo Games, the IOC introduced a relaxed version of Rule 40, a provision that protects Games exclusivity and intellectual property for official Olympic sponsors by limiting the involvement of other non-sponsoring brands. For example, when Nike was an official sponsor of the Olympics in the past, an athlete like Biles could not have worn Athleta gear at the Games. Under the new version of rule 40, it can.
However, a key caveat of the new ruling is that non-Olympic sponsors cannot mention the Games in their branded advertising, in order to maintain the exclusivity of Olympic sponsors.
âIt didn’t really work as expected for smaller athletes,â says John Grady, professor of sports law at the University of South Carolina. “But it has worked a lot for people like Simone Biles and Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky.”
Rule 40 is still ongoing, according to Brant Feldman of American Group Management, who represents Olympic and Paralympic athletes on sponsorship agreements. With each Olympic federation interpreting the provision in its own way, regulatory issues must be resolved. âIt’s a lot more complicated than that,â says Feldman.
By then, and with the approach of Paris 2024, the table is set for Lee and Dressel. And the youth are on their side. Lee, who will be 21 in 2024, could still be in his prime as a gymnast for the next Olympics. She plans to compete at Auburn in the meantime, which also adds to her earning potential with the emerging market for names, image and likeness at the college level. Dressel probably has yet another run at the Olympics: he’ll be 27 at his next Olympics.
“They both came at the perfect time,” said Delpy Neirotti, adding: “It’s going to be advantageous for these two stars in terms of business value.”