The Olympics opens doors for athletes that normally might not get endorsement deals. The games happen once every four years — I know there’s the split between winter and summer, but Michael Phelps isn’t anywhere to be seen during the giant slalom — so it is imperative that these athletes take advantage of their fleeting fame. After all, there is no guarantee they will be back at the Games or winning at the highest level again — unless, again, we are talking about Michael Phelps.
Katie Ledecky and Lilly King are two strong candidates to take advantage of their performance and parlay it into endorsement deals and real dollars (pros such as Phelps and Simone Biles already leverage their earning potential so they are out of the discussion).
Ledecky is obvious. She is simply dominant in the pool and has the chance to be the Michael Phelps of women’s swimming. Some estimates have Ledecky’s earning power at $3 million. There’s a catch though. Ledecky already deferred her enrollment at Stanford — where she planned to swim for the Cardinal team — because of the Olympics. Turning pro means she must either defer her enrollment again to continue to race in international competitions that bring ROI for her endorsement partners, or attend Stanford but not be part of the swimming team. The NCAA doesn’t permit athletes to have personal endorsement deals. A scholarship really doesn’t matter if she is making $3 million, but a desire to swim in NCAA competitions might. It would be a surprise if Ledecky doesn’t cash in now.
The other major winner could have a more difficult choice. Lilly King is currently enrolled at Indiana. Her fame has skyrocketed when she called out Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova for doping, then went on to beat her in the 100-meter breaststroke final. King is now a household name and definitely has a shot at the Wheaties box. This may be her only time to cash in on her fame. That would mean sacrificing any future NCAA competition. She’s only 19, so if she can stay at this elite level, there could be a shot for endorsements after she graduated. That assumes that she qualifies in four years and also wins again in Tokyo. Even then, it may not be in as dramatic fashion as her conquest for gold this year. It’s a tough decision.
Phelps, Biles, Kerri Walsh Jennings, Usain Bolt, and every other Olympic star that already cashed in doesn’t need to worry about these decisions. But Ledecky and King must seriously consider their future earnings after these Games.