With both professional and Olympic sports now acknowledging the hit they are taking from the economic meltdown, the trickle-down effect on amateur athletes isn't far behind. Alas, it's keeping pace all too well.
Athletes who came home from Beijing with medals haven't received the kind of endorsements their predecessors have, and many athletes who hope to get to Vancouver 2010 also are at risk of being left out in the cold.
"Most of the time, dollars that are available to athletes come from discretionary promotional budgets and advertising budgets," said Elliott Kerr, president of Landmark Sport Group Inc. "And everyone I know, retail marketers, are having their budgets slashed."
Mississauga-based Landmark is the country's largest athlete and television personality representation and event marketing company. Among Kerr's clients are speedskater Cindy Klassen, hockey player Jayna Hefford, and curler Russ Howard. They're all Olympic gold medallists. Kerr's summer athletes include Karen Cockburn in trampoline and equestrian Ian Millar, who both came back from Beijing with silvers.
Only Klassen, Canada's most decorated Olympian with six medals, is truly cashing in.
"Cindy is in a class of her own," Kerr said. "Going into a Winter Games, hosted in her own country, all those things have added up to being very lucrative for Cindy."
Klassen currently is featured in a Sony advertisement, and has a new McDonald's ad in the works.
Across town at True Gravity, president Blake Corosky represents four winter athletes aiming for Vancouver. Only two of them are fully set sponsorship-wise. He worries things will get worse before they get better.
"I'm less concerned about what's going to happen before the Games than what will happen after the Games," Corosky said. "There's going to be a big economic hangover in 2010."
The effects of the ailing global economy on pro sports are many: The NBA cut 9% of its workforce, Major League Baseball's attendance has dropped, the LPGA Tour has axed three events from its schedule for 2009, and Montreal is reeling over the loss of its annual Formula One race.
On the Olympic scene, Johnson & Johnson has confirmed it won't renew its lucrative global sponsorship deal with the International Olympic Committee at the end of this year. Nortel and GM Canada, two key sponsors for Vancouver 2010, have announced deep losses and layoffs while stating they're still solid as sponsors.
As for the pocketbooks of individual athletes, Kerr and Corosky agree there has been little or nothing happening in terms of new endorsements for Beijing medallists. And now, their all-too-brief window of opportunity has closed. Blame it on both the economy and the Vancouver factor -- for the first time in ages, nobody has emerged as a marquee athlete following an Olympics.
"Regarding the summer Olympian, it's been a very tough sell," Kerr said. "It's a very tough market and with the disposable marketing dollars being spent on Vancouver, those dollars just wouldn't be available."
I realize it's time to bring on Vancouver, but just before we consign all Beijing medallists to the dustbin of history, answer me this: Canada had three Olympic gold medallist emerge from Beijing. Who were they?