News Column

The Games Go On

November 2004, HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine

Anthony Limón

Steven Lopez won Olympic gold in the men’s 68-kg taekwondo competition in Athens.
Steven Lopez won Olympic gold in the men’s 68-kg taekwondo competition in Athens.

From softball to taekwondo, Hispanic athletes played prominent roles on this year's U.S. Olympic squad. Now, some are in a position to turn gold into green.

Sixteen Hispanics represented the United States in Athens, making up a little over 2.9 percent of the entire team and bringing home seven of the United States' 103 medals. And while the number of Hispanic athletes on the team has remained steady – between 2 percent and 3 percent over the past three Games – the number of Hispanics winning medals is growing and bringing with it some lucrative opportunities.

Now more than ever, corporations are leveraging Olympic athletes in hopes that consumers and sports fans will share their affinity for those athletes with the products they endorse. That potentially lucrative connection also isn't lost on companies trying to reach the booming Hispanic market.

Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, says Hispanic athletes have become a hot commodity. "Companies like Visa that have a global presence and want to localize their brands across regions, they will go after the athletes that can bring their brand to the marketplace," Mr. Swangard says. "We're heading into a stage where the growth of the Hispanic market is becoming one of those buzz terms, and it stands to reason that those athletes that have Hispanic heritage will benefit from it."

Jim Andrews, senior vice-president of IEG, a sponsorship research firm, agrees. "Companies are trying to get a little bit of the rub-off effect of the goodwill people feel for these athletes," he says.

While athletes and sponsors are reluctant to divulge the value of their deals, IEG estimates North American companies will spend approximately $600 million on Olympic-related properties in 2004. Sports marketers say individual Olympic gold medalists can make anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 on marketing deals resulting from this summer's Games.

Among the Hispanic athletes who already have captured the attention of Corporate America with their Olympic achievements is two-time taekwondo golden boy Steven Lopez, who capitalized on some pre-Games buzz to land endorsement deals with Nike, McDonald's, and The Home Depot.

U.S. Hispanic Summer Olympians 1996-2004
Total Athletes Total Hispanics % of Team Total Medals Hispanic Medals % of Total Medals
'96 653 16 2.4 101 6 5.9
'00 603 18 2.9 97 10 10.3
'04 536 16 3.0 103 7 6.8

Total 1792 50 2.8 301 23 7.6
Source: Hispanic Business, based on U.S. Olympic Committee data

Mr. Lopez most recently signed a deal with Mercedes-Benz that landed him a new E500 in exchange for quarterly marketing appearances and is eyeing deals with Fiesta Markets, Colgate-Palmolive, and Papa John's Pizza as potential endorsement partners as well, according to agent Jean Lopez, who also is Mr. Lopez's coach and brother.

"There are very few athletes who win gold medals and can speak Spanish," Steven Lopez says. "I think that is something businesses can capitalize on, and I can capitalize on as well."

John Castello, executive vice-president of merchandising and marketing for The Home Depot, says Mr. Lopez's bilingual abilities are key to his appeal and a large part of the way he is marketed. "The Home Depot recognized Steven's [ability] to communicate with the Hispanic market via targeted Spanish-language media properties," Mr. Castello says. "The Hispanic media has responded favorably to Steven, particularly because he is bilingual."

More than 60 percent of the medals won by Hispanic athletes in the past three Summer Games have been gold. But athletic achievement isn't the only factor in getting endorsement deals, Mr. Andrews says.

"To really make any kind of significant money it takes winning a gold medal, [but] there are enough medalists that they are not going to all get marketing deals," says Mr. Andrews. "There is such an emphasis on multicultural and multiethnic marketing right now that those athletes with different ethnic backgrounds definitely have a greater advantage."

Jessica Mendoza

Jessica Mendoza took home gold as part of the U.S. women's softball squad in Athens.

That advantage carries even more weight considering Telemundo's recent success with the first-ever Spanish-language U.S. broadcast of the Olympics. The network offered 174 hours of Olympic programming, reaching 12.2 million total viewers in 46 percent of all Hispanic households in the United States.

Other athletes capitalizing on corporate marketing deals are softball gold medalists Jessica Mendoza and Lisa Fernandez. Ms. Mendoza, a 24-year-old phenom with two degrees from Stanford, signed a signature glove and bat line deal with Louisville Slugger in 2002 and has an apparel and footwear deal with Adidas.

It was Ms. Fernandez, a groundbreaker in the world of female endorsements, who paved the way for athletes like Ms. Mendoza. Ms. Fernandez has landed nine endorsement deals and was one of the first women to launch her own line of bats with Louisville Slugger and a signature shoe with Reebok. Ms. Fernandez is currently the marquee player of the Ladies Professional Fast Pitch Association and is a partial owner of her namesake softball league, The Lisa Fernandez Fastpitch Championships.

While a handful of Olympic athletes are capitalizing on Hispanic market appeal now, experts say the real test will come as they try to outlast other medalists and win the attention of marketers and companies for years to come.

"There's a scarcity in [Hispanic athletes] and growing demand," says Mr. Swangard. "There are going to be plenty of companies chasing opportunities to change the market."

Hispanic Summer Gold Medals 1996-2004
Hispanic Athletes Hispanic Medals Hispanic Gold % Gold
1996 16 6 4 66%
2000 18 10 5 50%
2004 16 7 5 66%

Total 50 23 14 61%
Source: Hispanic Business, based on U.S. Olympic Committee data

View a complete list of Hispanic Summer Olympic Medal Winners 1996-2004


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