All that glitters doesn't necessarily turn to gold Olympic success no guarantee for Nall

August 13, 1992|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

Anita Nall -- the local swimmer who emerged from the Olympics as Baltimore's newest sweetheart -- knows better than most that Barcelona gold is hardly a gold mine.

The 16-year-old, who returned from Barcelona with individual silver and bronze medals and a relay-team gold, is negotiating with swimsuit maker Speedo for an endorsement, and already has been featured in ads for The Gap, a clothing retailer.

But even if a few more deals materialize, it is unlikely Nall ever will see anything approaching riches from her Olympic performance.

"If anybody's out there who thinks she's going to earn millions of dollars, they are wrong," said John Nall, Anita's father.

In fact, agents and sports marketing professionals say few Olympians parlay their athletic success into economic success. And those who do often excel because of skills unrelated to athletics -- such as a good television personality or an ability to coach other athletes.

"Only a very few Olympic athletes end up earning so much that they never have to worry about money again," said Jerry Solomon, president of ProServ, a sports marketing and management company based in Arlington, Va.

An Olympic superstar can bring in $250,000 to $750,000 a year for a few years, Solomon said. But such incomes are reserved for the likes of Bart Conner, Bruce Jenner, Peggy Fleming and other standouts, he said. American runner Florence Griffith Joyner, for example, earned a reported $4 million and the nickname "Cash Flo" after the 1988 Olympics.

But, for every Griffith Joyner, there are dozens of winning athletes, such as Anita Nall, who bring home medals but make only a brief appearance in the national spotlight. And there are hundreds of also-rans who won nothing. The United States sent more than 650 athletes to Barcelona, and they won 108 medals.

"There is a misconception out there that when you go up to the platform and they hand you your medal that they also hand you three endorsement contracts," Solomon said.

Nall's commercial success will be hampered by several factors, according to marketing professionals: the lack of pro swimming opportunities in the United States, the sport's limited popularity, her lack of gold medals and the perception that she did not meet expectations. She holds the world record in the 200-meter breaststroke, but won a bronze in the event.

"We really don't focus on swimming except every four years," said Curt Curtis, a senior vice president with International Management Group, a Cleveland-based competitor of ProServ.

Working in her favor are her outgoing, wholesome personality and the fact that she is young enough to continue competing, Solomon said.

"I think there are some opportunities out there for Anita, but, at this point, some of the exposure for her was not as good as for some of the others," Solomon said.

He said the Barcelona Games overall were remarkable for the lack of marketable standouts. Swimmers Pablo Morales and Janet Evans, track athletes Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Gail Devers and gymnast Shannon Miller are expected to do well with endorsements, he said.

But the failure of these Olympics to generate a single mega-performer leaves the commercial field cluttered. This is especially true for women this year, who are often at a disadvantage when it comes to endorsements. And recession-battered companies are spending less, further increasing the competition for endorsement money.

Ed Manetta, senior vice president for sports marketing with Daniel J. Edelman Public Relations, said Nall probably could win some deals promoting local companies or products. Companies also might hire her to give motivational talks or to appear at employee functions, he said.

Nall, who begins her junior year at Towson Catholic High School this fall, said she has not decided whether she will swim in the 1996 Games in Atlanta or what she wants to do for a living after that. In general, she finds appealing a career that involves outdoor work or work with animals, she said.

Her Olympic effort was directed at competition, she said. But she's not opposed to making money from it.

She and her family gambled that she could earn enough from commercial contracts to pay for college. She waived her NCAA eligibility -- and her chances for an athletic scholarship worth $7,000 to $20,000 a year depending on the school -- by accepting a $1,500-a-month stipend during Olympic training from U.S. Swimming, the governing body of America's Olympic swimming effort.

"If she makes a few bucks, she deserves it. We're not looking to make a lot of hay from this. . . . She'll make enough money to pay for college, and that's fine," John Nall said. Her school will come first, he said.

So far, there have been some offers and calls from agents, he said. The family has opted not to hire an agent and is using a local attorney to negotiate deals. She has kept her profile up by granting interviews with the media, something the family hopes will enhance her commercial appeal.

She has been approached by Hecht's, which is interested in having her appear at a fashion show in exchange for some free clothes. Towson wants her to be grand marshal of its July 4 parade next year.

The Gap ads before the Olympics paid $700, and agreeing to appear on some trading cards paid another $500. The Speedo deal probably will be the biggest. The details still are being worked out, but it could be worth up to $20,000, John Nall said.

Before the Games, two companies offered him a few hundred dollars to wear T-shirts and hats with the name of the companies on them when he was in the stands watching his daughter compete. The companies were hoping for exposure when the television cameras showed the family in the stands.

"I got to thinking about it, but for a few hundred dollars I'm going to look like a sign post," he said. He declined the offers.

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