In the first stop of her post-Olympic tour, Lindsey Vonn will be a guest on Jay Leno's first episode back as host of "The Tonight Show". The skier, who has won two medals already in Vancouver, will join actor Jamie Foxx and country singer Brad Paisley in returning the embattled Leno back to his old time slot on March 1, the first Monday after the Olympics.
It's an obvious step for NBC. The network spent weeks promoting Vonn as the "it" girl of Vancouver and then featured her heavily during Olympic coverage. Now it will be able use use her (and Shaun White, who appears on Leno later next week) in ads for the revamped "Tonight Show." If a fraction of the 25 million people who have been watching Vonn compete during the Games check her out on Leno's re-debut, maybe the ratings will be decent enough that NBC won't get ripped as badly for the whole Jay-Conan debacle.
For Vonn, getting "The Tonight Show" invite is a good first step after the Games. Her path will go one of two ways after the cauldron gets snuffed at B.C. Place. She'll either continue to make a lot of money as a huge but largely forgotten star in a niche sport (a la Shaun White) or will make a lot of money as a crossover star from a niche sport (a la Michael Phelps).
We suspect it will be somewhere in the middle. Phelps is still in the national consciousness because his Olympics were historic. Vonn has been great, but her exploits aren't synonymous with victory, as were Phelps'. Because of her success, looks, and personality, expect some major endorsements, a few TV interviews, and possibly an appearance on "Saturday Night Live" (one of her dreams). No matter what, we'll see a lot from Lindsey Vonn over the next few months. The goal for her and her marketers is to keep her in the spotlight even longer.
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- Michael Phelps