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Lindsey Vonn Is Out, But Some Advertisers May Still Win

Skier Lindsey Vonn in Vail, Colo., in November. Vonn's high profile has won her several lucrative commercial sponsors, including Red Bull, Procter & Gamble, Under Armour and Rolex, among others.

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Aired 1/7/14

Lindsey Vonn's decision to sit out next month's Olympic Games due to a knee injury is surely a personal and professional disappointment for the Alpine skiing star. But Olympic athletes with Vonn's star power also mean big advertising dollars -- and not competing in Sochi may create winners and losers among the skier's sponsors.

Tripp Mickle of Sports Business Dailytells Morning Edition host David Greene that Vonn's announcement is a huge loss for NBC, which holds exclusive broadcast rights to the 2014 Winter Games in the U.S.

The skier, who won the gold medal in the downhill competition at the 2010 games in Vancouver, "was the face of the Olympics for [NBC]," Mickle says, and the network has been planning to feature her prominently in the weeks leading up to the games in Sochi, Russia. Vonn's plans to compete in five separate skiing events gave the network an even bigger promotional advantage, Mickle says, "and they've lost that."

Procter & Gamble, an official sponsor of the Olympic Games, may also find itself changing its promotional plans. Vonn and her mother have been front and center in the company's "Thank You, Mom" campaign spots, which depict moving stories of mothers supporting their children through their Olympic dreams.

The company will still be able to feature Vonn leading up to and throughout the Olympics, but without potential victories in Sochi to use as a springboard, P&G is unlikely to feature her in quite the same way it had planned after the games end, Mickle says.

Vonn's other sponsors, however -- including Under Armour, Rolex, Red Bull and Head, to name a few -- may actually benefit from the athlete's change in plans. An International Olympic Committee rule prevents companies that are not official Olympic sponsors from featuring athletes during the games, Mickle explains.

That means athletic gear company Under Armour, for example, with a slick winter advertising campaign featuring Vonn, will now be able to run those ads throughout February, rather than pulling them once the competition opens Feb. 7.

"So in a funny twist here, you actually see a sponsor who's going to be able to use an Olympic athlete during the games, in a way that they wouldn't have been able to otherwise," Mickle says.

There may be other new opportunities for Vonn's backers, as well. Bloomberg Businessweek notes that "the savviest marketers at those companies will be pushing Vonn to do a media blitz about her decision to bow out."

"Doing enough stories on her NOT going probably makes up for the exposure she would have received for the games," Matt Powell, a marketing analyst for SportsOneSource told Businessweek.

You can hear more of Tripp Mickle's conversation with David, including how Vonn's withdrawal from the games could affect her future endorsement opportunities, on Morning Edition's page Wednesday morning.

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