Bilodeaus historic win on Canadian soil makes for marketing gold

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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TORONTO - Even before Alexandre Bilodeau had Canada's first home-made gold medal slung around his neck Monday night, the country's newest Olympic hero was already garnering serious attention from Canadian companies eager to attach their brands to his historic feat.
Just hours after his win in freestyle moguls Sunday, Bilodeau celebrated with a trip to a local McDonald's, scarfing down a Big Mac and fries after posing for a publicity shot with grinning members of the restaurant's counter staff.
Winning a medal - particularly one with the significance attached to Canada's first ever Olympic gold won on Canadian soil - will likely lead to more opportunities for the 22-year-old skier to partner up with Corporate Canada.
Russell Reimer, a managing partner at Agenda Sport Marketing, said Bilodeau could become a millionaire in his life from corporate gigs.
"I could see several corporate partners wanting to align with Alexandre, I would say long-term commitments probably in the early six figures."
Reimer added that speed skater Cindy Klassen has likely earned more than $500,000 annually in the four years since her five-medal streak at the Turin Winter Games.
In the past, Olympic champions such as speed skater Catriona LeMay Doan and triathalete Simon Whitfield became corporate sponsors and motivational speakers, cashing in on their fame and remaining in the public eye long after their Olympic glory.
LeMay Doan, now 39, was the fastest Canadian woman on ice in the 1998 and 2002 Olympics, winning back to back gold medals. Later she won numerous other awards, parlaying that fame into corporate sponsorships, broadcasting and other public and charitable work.
For Bilodeau, accolades and tributes began to rain down on the moguls skier almost as soon as he had posted the win. The Royal Canadian Mint and Canada Post stepped up quickly to honour the Quebecer's victory with the immediate release of gold medal commemorative coins and stamps, though they didn't mention the skier by name.
Reimer said that Bilodeau would make a fitting spokesman for companies with a cutting edge image.
"Being the first in anything and being known for that is what gives you an opportunity to create a direct association with a brand that is looking to position itself as an innovator."
He added that Bilodeau, who cited a brother with cerebral palsy as his inspiration, also has a tremendous personal and family appeal, which make him even more marketable.
Reimer said the Vancouver Games have changed the relationship between athletes and marketers who are beginning to see potential in Olympians aside from hockey players as high profile spokespeople.
Bilodeau is one of several Nike-sponsored Canadian athletes. He was featured prominently as the "Mogul of moguls" after his win on the sportswear giant's Canadian web site Monday.
Norm O'Reilly, a visiting professor of marketing at Stanford University who is volunteering with the Canadian Olympic team, said smart sponsors sign hopefuls before the Games to long-term deals that may be worth less than if they were signed after a win, but that guarantee the athlete a pay out either way.
"It's analogous to a venture capitalist picking 15 new businesses hoping that one booms, so you lose small amounts of money on 14, but then you get a bonanza on the 15th."
Jeff Bean, a former Olympic freestyle skier who has trained with Bilodeau, said his win - both on the hill and with sponsors - will have a dramatic positive impact for his fellow skiers, raising the profile of the sport and making it easier for other freestylers to secure similar marketing opportunities.
"Having Alex and (women's moguls silver medallist) Jen (Heil) and the whole team having done what they did really put our sport on the map and is going to help us," said Bean. The former Olympian now works at Royal Bank (TSX:RY) as part of a sponsorship program to help fund Olympic athletes like Bilodeau and others on the Canadian freestyle ski team.
"With having two medals already, aerials to come, we're going to be on the nation's radar now, people are going to know what mogul skiing is and a lot of young kids are going to ski moguls."
Louis Payette, national spokesman for McDonald's Canada (NYSE:MCD), said the company approached Bilodeau after his race, asking if he would meet the crew behind the counter at the main Olympic media centre on the Vancouver waterfront to give them a taste of the excitement.
"It was kind of spur of the moment, hours after he wins gold at Cypress... he came down and really was so generous with his time and sharing with our crew, sharing the moment - those kids were so proud."
Bilodeau joined the McDonald's Olympic Hopefuls program in 2006 and has been an ambassador for the company ever since. He is one of several Canadian athletes featured in a series of Olympic-themed McDonald's ads.
Payette said Bilodeau is a great spokesman for the sport and for Canada's largest fast-food burger chain.
"He's got such an engaging personality, he cares about giving back... he's done fantastic work supporting us during McHappy day," when the company donates proceeds to children's charities.
Bean, who has known Bilodeau for 10 years and trained with him in Lake Placid, said there couldn't be a better role model for companies looking for a face to associate with their products.
"He's someone that understands the responsibility he has just created for himself and for the sport."
He added that Bilodeau will likely be highly sought after for marketing deals.
"If I was in charge of a big company, he's the first person I would sign. I wouldn't worry one bit about putting Alex in front of any situation and trusting him completely with my brand."
RBC, along with Columbia ski equipment, Bell Canada (TSX:BCE) and Canada Post are sponsors of the Canadian freestyle ski team.
Royal bank spokesman Geoff Owen said Olympic tie-ins are marketing gold for sponsors. But he added the thrill of knowing you are a part of winning gold goes beyond brand image.
"Success for a brand is being able to identify and have people identify us with causes that are important to them, like amateur sports, like the Olympics," he said.
"(But) when we win our first ever gold medal on home soil and we know that our organization played a very small part but an important part in making that happen, it transcends marketing."

Organizations: McDonald's, Canada Post, Corporate Canada Royal Canadian Mint TSX Nike Stanford University NYSE RBC Bell Canada BCE

Geographic location: Canada, TORONTO, Turin Vancouver Lake Placid Columbia

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