When Gabby Douglas began the floor routine she hoped would score well enough to clinch all-around gold Thursday night, more was at stake than merely the title of best gymnast in the world.
Also hanging in the balance was four years of endorsement revenue.
Gabby Douglas (Getty Images)Whereas even the most decorated Olympians typically fade from the national spotlight almost immediately after the Olympic flame is extinguished, past U.S. women's all-around gymnastics champions have enjoyed a longer shelf life. Mary Lou Retton, Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin graced cereal boxes and magazine covers and appeared in TV shows and cosmetics commercials long after their gymnastics careers peaked.
Sports marketing experts believe Douglas could be even more appealing to corporate America than some of her predecessors because of her disarming smile, fun-loving personality and unique back story.
Dan Migala of the sports marketing firm Property Consuling Group told Forbes that Douglas could earn as much as $10 million through endorsements over the next four years. Executive director of Baker Street Advertising Bob Dorfman told Yahoo! Sports he believes that's a bit high, but he expects Douglas to earn 1 to 3 million dollars between the end of London 2012 and the start of Rio 2016.
"Whoever wins all-around gold becomes the darling of America," Dorfman said. " That's the queen of the Summer Olympics. That's usually where one of the most marketable athletes from the Games emerges, especially with somebody like Gabby who's really cute, very young and certainly has the potential to compete again in Rio."
[ Related: Douglas' mother made 'gut-wrenching decision' ]
If it seems far-fetched that one victory could be worth millions of dollars in future income to Douglas, consider the attention she has already received.
She gained 50,000 Twitter followers before NBC even aired the all-around competition Thursday night and another 150,000 by Friday at noon. Kellogg's has announced that her picture will grace boxes of Corn Flakes that will be hitting grocery stores soon. And among the celebrities who have reached out to congratulate her so far include talk show host Oprah Winfrey, rapper Lil Wayne and singer Nicki Minaj.
"All of the girls on this year's team will have opportunities because they won the first team gold since '96, but Gabby winning all-around certainly is going to help her chances," said Matt Fleming, a senior manager at the Dallas-based Marketing Arm. "Outside of the swimming guys, Phelps and Lochte, she has separated herself from everyone else winning this. We'll see how the rest of the Games play out, but her value as a spokesperson or endorser has gone up pretty dramatically."
What will aid Douglas is that she shatters the stereotype of the steely-eyed, ultra-focused gymnast who grew up in isolation while working toward an Olympic dream.
Away from the gym, Douglas is a typical teen, from her passion for the "Twilight" movies, to her love of rap music, to her penchant for hyperbole. In fact, it was her lack of laser-like focus on gymnastics that had her coaches doubting whether she'd ever tap into her immense talent and make a serious bid to become the first African-American ever to win all-around gold.
This Gabby Douglass Corn Flakes box will hit grocery stores soonDouglas left her Virginia Beach home to train for the Olympics in Iowa two years ago, but until this year her resume didn't compare to the accomplishments of many of her future U.S. teammates.
At the 2011 Visa Championships in Minnesota, Douglas fell off the balance beam three times in one dreadful routine. At the 2011 world championships, her best individual finish was fifth place on the uneven bars.
Douglas' results improved this year with more practice and daily drills to improve her concentration. She proved the hard work was worthwhile Thursday, taking the lead on the vault and maintaining her edge after each successive rotation for a wire-to-wire victory.
"I wanted to seize the moment," Douglas told reporters in London. "It hasn't sunk in yet. Team finals hasn't sunk in yet. But it will."
Perhaps it will sink in for Douglas when she begins her inevitable publicity tour in the coming weeks.
Sports marketing experts expect her representatives to begin by booking appearances for her on late-night talk shows either during the second week of the Olympics or the week after that. Then they'll pitch her to restaurant chains, shampoo and toothpaste companies, and cosmetic brands — any corporations that can take advantage of her appeal to a young, female demographic.
[ Also: Wieber, Douglas driven by competition ]
The buzz from the Olympics will inevitably die down in the next few months, but there are ways for Douglas' representatives to keep her in the public consciousness between then and the buildup to the 2016 Rio Games. They can have her participate in a barnstorming gymnastics tour with other members of the U.S. team or they can book her on "Dancing with the Stars" or other reality shows.
"She's a strong role model, she has a great back story and she seems like she can deliver a line on camera," Dorfman said. "Everyone is going to want a piece of her."
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