DENVER — U.S. Olympic hopefuls will be able to cut their own deals with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee's marketing partners under a first-of-its-kind plan that has potential to shift the top-heavy sponsorship model that rules the Olympic world.
The USOPC unveiled a program Tuesday called AMP —- Athlete Marketing Program — which will give potential Olympians three ways of connecting with the federation's sponsors. One includes a $1,250 payment in 2021 simply for signing up with an arm of the program that will produce content featuring athletes in groups of three or more.
Another part of the program allows some athletes to earn royalties on licensed merchandise with their name on it. The third part allows athletes to sign separate endorsement deals with USOPC sponsors. The entire program is voluntary. Athletes will sign up by building a profile on an online platform that sponsors and licensees can access.
"It gives you a chance to get marketing exposure you might not have had access to," two-time Olympic champion triple jumper Christian Taylor said.
The program could augment deals that many champions such as Taylor already have, while providing a starting point for up-and-comers who haven't hired agents or otherwise become well-known.
"For the majority of athletes who never get any opportunity, it's a fair and a great way to get some exposure," agent Sheryl Shade said. "For the big-name athletes, this is not where they're going to get their sponsorships."
The program, which begins in March, is the USOPC's biggest attempt to date to provide a remedy for the IOC's much-maligned Rule 40. The Olympics have long used the rule to restrict marketing opportunities for athletes, essentially forbidding them from marketing themselves during the games with companies whose brands compete with Olympic sponsors.
That restriction, combined with the limited windows of opportunity for most Olympic athletes, has fostered tension between athletes, who want to be able to cash in when their profiles are at their highest, and the IOC, which has long insisted it must enforce the restrictions to ensure value for its biggest sponsors who pay upward of $100 million for an Olympic cycle.
"We started to look at Rule 40, and how do we create opportunities," USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland said.
The full pilot program is available for athletes who finished in the top eight (or top six, in team events) in the most recent year's world championship or equivalent event. Individual marketing opportunities will be available for those who competed in the most recent world championships or have qualified for the upcoming Tokyo or Beijing Olympics.
Hirshland acknowledged the program is a work in progress and doesn't expect all athletes to be overjoyed by a $1,250 payment alone, but urges them to see the program as a chance to build something bigger than what the dollars will do on their own.
"It's a chance to tap into how much demand there is out there," she said. "And it's a chance for athletes who are willing and eager to engage and build their own profiles and brands in their own way. There's value in that an athlete's own marketing arrangement can be different from what our organization delivers" in its own marketing deals.