No big pay day for Kiwi Olympic medallists

WILLIAM MACE
Last updated 05:00 19/08/2012
Sarah Walker
Iain McGregor/Fairfax NZ
SILVER SMILE: New Zealand's Sarah Walker will be out of BMX for six months recovering from shoulder surgery.

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Kiwi Olympic Gold medallists looking to cash in on their new-found fame can expect ''bread and butter'' rather than ''gold and jewels''.

The New Zealand market is too small and local corporates too poor to shower athletes with sponsorship money and endorsement fees, according to advertising experts. But what they do get should make life easier.

Estimates of how much a gold medallist could earn through endorsements are sketchy, but sports agent and former Commonwealth Games shot putter Glenda Hughes said some could earn as much as $12,000 for a speaking event.

MGCom advertising consultant Martin Gillman said the Evers-Swindell twins and Sarah Ulmer would have been lucky to get ''six figures'' for a long-running Beef & Lamb NZ campaign they starred in.

''In other countries they would have easily got that ... It's hard to capitalise on the value of a medal in New Zealand because of the size of the market.''

Medal winning athletes were also in line for continued government funding - including bonuses worth as much as $60,000 for an individual gold medal - which meant huge sponsorship deals were not vital for them to keep competing.

Athletes were more likely to receive their value "in kind" in the form of vehicles or equipment, Gillman said.

Canoeist Lisa Carrington has already picked up undisclosed sponsors' bonuses for her gold medal performance. She was photographed accepting a collector's item watch from her Oakley sponsors while in London. Oakley watches retail for between $550 and $2500.

Carrington's manager Marisa Carter, wife of gold medal triathlete Hamish Carter, was already fielding further sponsorship offers and receiving gifts including a complimentary island getaway courtesy of a Rarotongan resort.

''We have had a bit of interest in sponsorship but it's really a matter of working through what Lisa wants to do from a professional side of things,'' Carter said.

Carrington has an existing relationship with ASB Bank through Sky Television's Sport Connect programme.

''She's definitely top of people's minds... and it's important to get in contact [with sponsors] and I'm definitely not waiting, but you also need to look at the company and what strategy they want to do and make sure it fits the person," she said.

Roger Mortimer, manager for gold medal winning single sculler Mahe Drysdale and BMX racing silver medallist Sarah Walker, said athletes who made up their mind to capitalise on their profile needed to do so quickly "because their light dims as the weeks go by".

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He would talk business with Drysdale and Walker sooner rather than later, but he knew they were more focused on sporting success than commercial gains. Drysdale lists his current commercial sponsors as Mainfreight, Korda Mentha and Bank Link while Walker lists Nike, Fox, Sony, Beef & Lamb NZ, Leatt and Avanti.

Having started out managing Hamish Carter and gold medal track cyclist Sara Ulmer, Mortimer said he had been fortunate to work with athletes who had always prioritised their sport above money.

But even if they wanted to cash in, advertising people say there isn't actually that much money to go around.

TBWA\Whybin advertising agency managing director David Walden said Kiwi corporates weren't flush with cash to spend on sporting sponsorships these days.

"I don't think everyone who's won a gold medal is going to come back and have people lining up with half a million bucks to sponsor them or anything.

"[Sarah] Walker is a sitter for a sponsor because she's good looking, she's young, and it's a sport that connects with that market, but I don't see Coca Cola or someone lining up to shower her with cash because there's just not the money around in this market."

***

Olympic gold medallists Valerie Adams, Mahe Drysdale and Eric Murray top the ranks of marketable athletes according to a survey of Kiwis' attitudes.

Consultant Simon Arkwright of Wellington-based Sport Research Group received around 2000 responses to his poll this week asking people which of 12 Olympic athletes appealed to them and why.

Shot-putter Adams, single sculls champion Drysdale, and Murray - the more hirsute member of the mens' pair - were considered the most recognisable among the sample.

They were followed closely by Murray's rowing partner Hamish Bond, double sculls gold medallist Nathan Cohen and BMX silver medallist Sarah Walker.

Murray's profile, assisted by his distinctive handlebar moustache and sideburns combination, placed him top of the pile in terms of likeability, being "a natural New Zealander" and the extent to which people felt they could relate to him.

Murray could find opportunities marketing any stereotypically Kiwi product, said Arkwright.

Drysdale represented credibility and leadership and would be a natural "public good" spokesperson perhaps in areas of health, safety or education.

Canoeist Lisa Carrington could link well with water safety campaigns while cyclist Simon van Velthoven, BMX star Walker and even Drysdale could potentially campaign for road safety.

Valerie Adams' "silver medal turned gold" story had shown a warmer side of her personality to the wider public.

- Fairfax Media

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