Generally, when people think of professional athletes, many think of James Harden-esque contracts that are allowing him to net more than $228 million dollars over the next 4 years and Bryce Harper who signed the first free agent contract in the MLB that surpassed the $400 million mark. While there are certain elite superstars that make more money than many of us could ever dream of, that is only the case for a small percentage of professional athletes in select sports. The grim reality is that this is far from reality for many athletes. The vast majority struggle to make a living through their sports, and must turn to either endorsements and sponsorships, or even donations, to keep them afloat. Such instances often involved Olympic athletes.
Olympic athletes rely heavily on sponsorship deals to make a living, as they receive a fraction of the salary and benefits of NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB and even MLS players. Additionally, they are only in the spotlight for a few weeks every four years. Usain Bolt (who we will feature later) only made $2.2 million last year directly from his sport. To put that into context, he would be in the bottom 95% of paid athletes in the NFL, NBA or MLB.
The actual cost for athletes preparing for the Olympic games is enormous. The majority of these athletes’ training expenses are funded by their endorsement deals. The athletes who are less popular or are unable to land huge sponsorship deals typically resort to fundraising efforts through tools such as GoFundMe or other crowdfunding resources. Some of the world’s greatest athletes are dependent on adding a logo to their uniform or allowing a product to use their face simply for ability to allow them to compete.
Bolt is a global superstar and a legendary track and field athlete. He participated in a sport in which he was not paid nearly the money that he is worth. Having made more than $34 million and $32 million in the last two respective years, Bolt, who has a social media following of over 32 million, came in at 23rd on the list of highest paid athletes in the world for 2017. However, almost all of his earnings came exclusively from endorsements.
Bolt signed with Puma at the age of 16, and has been sponsored by them ever since. Along with Puma, he received sponsorships from Sprint and Gatorade which netted him about $32 million last year. In 2017, Bolt made just $2.2 million from a sport in which he has essentially re-written the record books. He earned 14.5 times that amount from his sponsors.
Kim is widely considered to be the next big name to take the reins from Lindsey Vonn as the face of the Winter Games. She grabbed her first gold medal at the most recent Olympic games at the age of 17. The gold medal comes with a $37,500 payday, but it will be her newfound endorsements deals that push her to join the elite. She will very likely join Shaun White as one of the highest endorsed American Olympic athletes in recent memory. She had endorsement deals for the Olympic Games with 9 different brands, including global superpowers Nike, Toyota, Samsung, and Visa.
These are examples of two of the largest Olympic figures in the modern day. If Usain Bolt only makes $2.2 million in salary and Chloe Kim earns under seven-figures from her sport, you can imagine how bleak their competitor’s outlook is.
Olympians from the United States
The United States is typically considered one of the powerhouses in all major Olympic categories. Despite their reputation, a significant majority of their athletes struggle to gain financial backing to train and just about survive everyday rigors of maintaining elite athlete status. Many athletes around the world take on other professions and jobs just to pay for rent and fund their training efforts.
United States Olympians Stacey Cook (alpine skier) and Kikkan Randall (cross-country skier) depend mainly on small-scale sponsors to help them train and compete. Cook, who competed alongside Lindsey Vonn, is sponsored by Mammoth Mountain Ski Area. Randall receives support from Alaska Seafood, an organization simply dedicated to spreading a positive image about Alaska’s fishing resources.
Jaelin Kauf, a freestyle skier, cleaned houses and bussed restaurant tables in addition to raising $6,650 from crowdfunding efforts to support herself. Nick Symmonds, a middle-distance runner, sold ad space on his shoulders to fund his campaigns in the 2016 and 2012 Olympic games. He earned $21,800 from an eBay auction for his appearance in Rio 2016, and $11,100 for London 2012.
Olympians in Europe
Kieran Behan was the second ever Irish gymnast ever to qualify for the Olympics. Leading up to the 2012 London Olympic Games, he spent just about $14,000 in travel, training, and competition expenses just to qualify for a chance at winning the Olympic gold. He raised funds from washing cars, selling cakes, and even relying on his parents to help him support his dream. His out-of-pocket expenses were so great, he sometimes would have to ask competitors to use their wrist and hand supports when his broke.
Following the 2012 London Games, Behan was eligible for a $14,000 grant from the Irish Sports Council. Behan admitted to making less than $440 a month from Gymnastics Ireland because he is not classified as a high-performance athlete by the Irish Sports Council’s standards.
Four-time Greek Olympian, Vlasios Maras, confirmed that given the economic hardships, athletes were given little, if any, support from the government. The government cut some sports funding completely, while many saw less than half the amounts in Rio 2016 as they did in Athens 2004. Aging equipment and deteriorating facilities make it nearly impossible to compete with the best nations in the world.
Maras was able to secure enough funding through sponsorship in order to compete in Rio, but many of his teammates were unable to qualify for financial reasons. Due to his competitive success and ability to qualify for four straight Olympic Games, Maras was able to earn enough through sponsorships. His reputation helped him land just enough funding to earn him a spot in the Rio 2016 Games. In Athens 2004, there were 426 Greek competitors. In 2008, that number sharply declined to 156 and dropping to 93 in Rio.
Olympians from the Rest of the World
Sponsorship is an important factor in allowing these elite athletes to compete at the highest level. Peruvian long-distance runner, Vicente Chura, was unable to obtain sponsorship and was excluded from the Peruvian Olympic team, and prevented him from qualifying and competing in Rio 2016. The only funds that keep him training are donations from family members and occasionally from a local sport federation.
Donna Vakalis, a pentathlon competitor for Canada, projected that her yearly training programs can cost up to $40,000, but the Canadian government only offered support of around $3,450. While the majority of sports in the Canadian Olympic Committee are completely paid for, the pentathlon athletes must pay for their own coaching, access to facilities, and medical treatments. Canada has never placed higher than 11th in the modern pentathlon at any Olympic Games.
Many Olympians cannot afford to compete, let alone survive, off of the miniscule stipends they receive for competing under their nations colors. Much of the time, professional athletes are considered to be overpaid. On the flip side, Olympic athletes are considerably underpaid. These Olympians train upwards of 30-plus hours per week, but see very little financial assistance in return. In order to train and compete on the international stage, these elite athletes are dependent on sponsorship dollars to participate in the Olympic Games. Something needs to be done in order for them to thrive.
How SPRTER Can Help
Chloe Kim had around 15,000 Twitter followers and 160,000 Instagram followers before her successful run in the Olympics. After her triumph, those numbers immediately jumped to 287,000 and 650,000 respectively. Her explosion of social media following made her a prime target for sponsorship opportunities. Social media has become the present-day marketplace to measure an athlete’s worth in terms of sponsorship. But, how can we help these athletes or sporters (sports influencers: athletes, former athletes, caoches, teams, leagues, brands, etc.), as we like to call them?
SPRTER provides the perfect platform to help sporters tackle these types of issues. The SPRTER application allows sporters to gain exposure to supporters and other sporters from around the world with our Featured SPRTER feature, the SPRTER Discovery, the Sporter Leaderboard, and filter functions. The more supporters and followers you have, the more likely you are to become a target for sponsors.
Not only can sporters gain exposure, but they are able to easily build their brand using our profile layout. It was designed to make it easy for sporters to highlight everything supporters and potential sponsors would want to know about you. This article explains the opportunities on SPRTER in terms of finding sponsorship opportunities (https://sprter.com/app/sponsorship-opportunities/).
If you already have sponsors or once you land a sponsor, you encourage you to pin a post about them to the My Favorites section of your profile to boost the brand’s exposure (that’s what they are looking for). We also allow athletes to link a URL to every post, so use that too!
We also allow sporters to link the website of a charitable organization to raise awareness or even crowdfund for a cause or simply themselves. We are creating a one-stop shop for everything related to you, the sporter, in one sport-specific location! It will inevitably make personal websites obsolete as everything you need to know about the sporter is right there!
What’s Coming in the Future
The SPRTER team is working on multiple developments to help sporters interact with supporters and create additional revenue streams. We have started work on an exclusive content section and an experience store where sporters can sell experiences to their supporters. Experiences can include things like a personalized video message, a follow, a phone call, adding you as a PS4/Xbox friend and playing with you, etc. The opportunities are endless!
We understand that it is vital for sporters to find alternate sources of income and we at SPRTER want to provide exactly that on a sport-specific social media platform! We want all your needs to be met in one location!