Olympic Skating Medalist Has Yet to Land Big Endorsement Contracts
NEW YORK (AP) _ U.S. figure skating champion Kristi Yamaguchi won a spot on a cereal box but has signed no new commercial deals since winning a gold medal last month in one of the Winter Olympics’ most prestigious events.
The absence of endorsement deals has led to speculation that advertisers worried about getting caught in a U.S.-Japan economic crossfire are wary of the young Californian because of her Japanese name and heritage.
But her agent says that advertisers have expressed considerable interest in the fourth-generation American and that he has a ″substantial number″ of offers he plans to present to her next month.
He said he has talked with about 200 advertisers and agencies and has heard no complaints about her ethnic background.
The reason she hasn’t signed any deals yet, Yamaguchi agent Kevin Albrecht said, is that she is in training for the World Figure Skating Championships set for late March in Oakland, Calif.
He said she has postponed considering endorsement opportunities until those events are over.
But some talent brokers are skeptical of those claims.
They say agents typically profess to have deals in the works as a way to drum up interest in their clients. They say advertisers with concerns about an endorser with a connection to Japan wouldn’t admit misgivings anyway.
David Burns, who heads a service in Chicago that matches athletes and advertisers, said he suspects there is a resistance to using Yamaguchi.
A 21-year veteran of ad-celebrity matchups, Burns said he hasn’t had a single inquiry about her since her Olympic win before one of the biggest television audiences for this year’s Olympics.
″Right now there is a negative connected with anything Japanese. It’s wrong, wrong, wrong, but that is the way it is,″ he said.
Her endorsement potential ″is definitely suffering because of her Japanese face and her Japanese name,″ Burns said.
Other talent brokers said too litle time has passed since her victory to say whether the skater is losing endorsements because of her ancestry.
No other Olympians have signed big commercial deals either, they say.
In addition, they say the Winter Olympics generally aren’t as popular with Americans as the Summer Games. With the Summer Games and warmer weather coming up, advertisers are under little pressure to sign a winter sport athlete.
The ad market has also been in a slump because of the recession.
Marty Blackman, a sports celebrity negotiator in New York, said Yamaguchi’s Japanese heritage ″may be a factor but it is only a small factor compared to other reasons″ that she has signed no new endorsement deals.
Olympians are often seen only during the Olympics, he said, and advertisers generally like to sign deals with athletes whose accomplishments are in the public view more frequently than that.
″She will do fine (from an endorsement standpoint) coming into the next Winter Olympics,″ he said.
Indeed, there are signs that Yamaguchi will be a popular figure for the right advertiser.
Kellogg Co., which used her photo on a Special K cereal box last fall, planned to put her on boxes distributed near her home in northern California after her gold medal victory. But the company decided after announcing the commemorative box that it would make them available nationally due to demand from consumers and retailers who heard about the promotion.
Campbell Soup Co., a sponsor of the U.S. figure skating association, used Yamaguchi and three other members of the team for four separate ads that have been available to retailers for local use since mid-January.
Spokesman Kevin Lowery said more than 50 percent of the retailers selected the Yamaguchi ad as one of two they could run, indicating she was clearly the most popular of the four skaters among the participating retailers.
The agent Albrecht said 30,000 peoole turned out to see Yamaguchi skate at a mall in Dallas earlier this month and 35,000 showed up in Houston.
He said soft drink, clothing, beauty products and automotive companies have expressed interest in using her in ads, but declined to say if any of them were among those making specific offers.
″I haven’t seen any evidence she is being hurt,″ Albrecht said.