Which Olympic Stars Deserve Ad Deals?

Last Updated Mar 1, 2010 12:15 PM EST

As the Olympics concluded Sunday evening, athletes turned their attention to the next phase of the Games: winning worldwide fame and riches from their performances in Vancouver.

Tiger Woods hasn't made it easy for them. Thanks to the roving-eyed golfer, companies are looking into the backgrounds of potential endorsers much like the Secret Service probes members of the President's security detail.

"You're looking at everything from their grades to the people they associate with, to how they treat women, to what is their marriage life like," advertising executive Mike Paul tells USA Today in a piece about sports endorsements in general.

So it will be interesting to see what advertisements, if any, come the way of Olympic athletes such as American snowboarder Scotty Lago, who won a bronze but turned up in compromising photos in an after-competition celebration that didn't, shall we say, uphold the finest ideals promoted by Games.

Although companies may be more hesitant to cast their fate with a sports star, Olympian or not, I think it's well worth the effort. There are plenty of studies that show celebrity endorsements help move product and cast a warm glow around a corporate brand. But there does not seem to be a corresponding loss of business, at least for any length of time, when a celebrity goes bad. Michael Vick, Pete Rose, Kobe Bryant -- none of them could drag down their sponsors with their crimes or faux pas.

Tiger is a case in point, according to Harvard Business School professor Anita Elberse.

"Tiger Woods has created enormous value for the companies he's worked for over the years, and it's not clear to me that that value has been wiped out. I haven't seen any reports that any of the companies had their sales hurt."

Which Olympians do you think deserve corporate love?

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.