The Madeleine Brand Show for July 11, 2012

Olympic athletes battle over gold, silver and bronze - despite not much green

Olympics Day 6 - Shooting

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Silver medalist Kimberly Rhode of the United States, gold medalist Chiara Cainero of Italy and bronze medalist Christine Brinker of Germany pose with their medals after the Women's Skeet Final at the Shooting Range CTF during Day 6 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 14, 2008 in Beijing, China.

In just a couple of weeks, the 2012 Olympic games will kick off in London. And its not just gold, silver and bronze the athletes will be competing for — but green. Olympic sponsorships have become a multi-billion dollar business.

But how much of that cash do the athletes actually see? Not much, according to journalist Ann Killion, who wrote about this for Ad Week.

For every mega-star like Michael Phelps, who receives million-dollar endorsement deals, there's hundreds of Olympians who are basically living below the poverty line. Killion's article breaks down the numbers in her article.

Half of top 10 competitors in each event make less than $15,000 in sponsorship, grants or prize money. Add to that the cost of training, coaching and traveling for Olympic athletes which regularly reaches six figures, and athletes struggle to make ends meet.

To make it work, synchronized swimmers work shifts at a Santa Clara bingo hall, in New Zealand, tae kwon do athlete Logan Campbell opened an escort agency. Ben Bruce, steeplechase competitor, went on foodstamps, after being unable to convince Nike to increase his meager stipend.

Meanwhile, the Olympics have become a huge revenue generator for major corporations. This year, sponsorship and ad revenues could add up to seven billion dollars.


Ann Killion is a sports writer in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her piece on Olympic sponsorship appears in the current issue of Ad Week.

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