Worlds win gives Meissner jump on earning potential

The title "world champion" implies that one can't do a whole lot better.

In the high-stakes arena of sporting fame and product endorsement, however, Olympic gold is the ultimate prize for a figure skater.

Thus, Bel Air's Kimmie Meissner has work to do if she wants to become the next Dorothy Hamill, according to marketing experts.

But Meissner's win Saturday in Calgary, Alberta, primed the 16-year-old to be queen of the next Olympics, they said.

"Being a world champion at her age is going to open up a lot of opportunities for her," said Robert Tuchman, president of TSE Sports and Entertainment, a New York company that matches companies with celebrity endorsers. "Companies will start looking at her as they build to the next Olympics."

Many observers forget that endorsement money is as likely to be earned pre-Olympics as post, Tuchman added.

"The buildup can be a lot more lucrative," he said. "And right now, I look at her and see the No. 1 targeted athlete for those Olympics."

Olympic marketing has become an elaborate futures game, agreed Bob Dorfman, executive creative director for San Francisco-based Pickett Advertising.

"Companies want to get a figure skater, because that's the marquee event," he said. "And even if she doesn't win in Vancouver, she'll be a major player. So companies will want to secure the rights to her. Right now, she's kind of become the one to watch."

Others sounded more cautious on Meissner's marketing potential.

"She has what appears to be considerable likability," said John Antil, a University of Delaware professor who studies celebrity endorsements. "On the other hand, if you're her agent, you obviously wish she had won the Olympics instead of the worlds. There are simply far more eyes on the Olympics."

Meissner had already raised her profile and earning potential by qualifying for the 2006 Olympics and skating well in Turin.

Hundreds of reporters and television cameras followed every move made by the top Olympic skaters. Meissner's victory at worlds, by contrast, received scant mention on SportsCenter or in most newspapers.

She will next skate for the Champions on Ice professional tour. The teenager has appeared at a few professional shows already, but her victory makes her a more desirable headliner, said Dean Moye, a producer for Champions on Ice.

"Obviously, in the skating world, people like to see the new world champion or the new Olympic champion," he said.

Moye said Meissner's profile can't match those of skaters who've won multiple world championships and Olympic medals.

"She's just coming on the scene," he said. "But the interest from the fan base and the promoter base is going to be higher now."

The proceeds from professional exhibitions will help offset the enormous cost of dresses, choreography, equipment and coaching (more than $100,000 a year for elite skaters).

Such tours are also important because they keep a skater like Meissner in the minds of those who care for the sport, Antil said.

"That continued exposure, even if it's to a relatively small number of people, is essential," he said. "That way, when the next Olympics roll around, people will be able to say, 'Oh, I know who she is.'"

The highest-profile Americans from recent years have taken vastly different roads to prominence.

Skaters such as Kristi Yamaguchi and Sarah Hughes managed to turn unexpected gold at the Olympics into marketing gold at home. But Michelle Kwan excelled in national and world competitions for more than a decade without winning Olympic gold. She still managed to score endorsement deals with Coca-Cola and other companies.

Marketing experts say the best path for Meissner would be a hybrid in which she builds on her early success, enters the 2010 Games as a favorite and wins gold.

On the other hand, if she were to get hurt or fall behind other skaters, her victory last weekend may be lost to the vagaries of public memory.

"Anything could happen to her," Dorfman said. "That's why these Olympic sports are such a crapshoot. There's such a long lull between the Games."

Meissner is certainly on the right track, marketing experts said. She has cemented her on-ice reputation at a young age, and she represents the American ideal of a hometown girl making good. Her older rivals, Kwan and Sasha Cohen, aren't expected to skate much longer.

"Every corporation is trying to target younger people," Tuchman said. "Anytime you get a story about a younger person, it increases the magnitude of that person's marketing potential because that younger demographic is so sought after."

The experts disagreed on how soon Meissner might pop up as a major endorser.

She will likely need to win an Olympic medal to take that step, Antil predicted.

"I don't think there's any nice clear answer as to what's in store for her," he said. "We probably will have to wait for the next Olympics to know that."

But Tuchman said he wouldn't be surprised to see Meissner plugging products any day now.

"The real smart companies will see that she could be an endorser of the highest magnitude," he said. "Every day, she'll have more value, so if you want to sign her to a contract, the sooner the better."


Dean Moye's name was misspelled when this article was published in the print edition. The Sun regrets the error.

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