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Olympic bling doesn't alwas equal cha-ching in Canada

Fourth-Place Medal

You have the image: Athlete trains all her/his life to master one perhaps otherwise socially irrelevant skill, becomes best in the world and becomes the face of many advertising campaigns.

That might be going by the wayside. Friday's Globe & Mail touched on how endorsement opportunities for Canadian Olympic medallists, at least outside Quebec which is a sports culture unto itself, seem to be drying up. It used to seem like if a Canadian won a gold, he or she could count on being in a commerical or two.

Now a Canadian champion is more commonplace, but the audience is fragmented because there is more competition among media. So there's more athletes and their agents fighting over a shrinking pie:

"Evan Morgenstein, an American sports agent who represents former Olympic athletes Mark Spitz, Bruce Jenner and Janet Evans, said turning a medal into a career is no longer a straightforward exercise in alchemy. It requires not just athletic achievement, but the right look and story to grab public attention.

" 'Twenty years ago, you probably had 60 per cent of homes watching the Olympics,' he said. 'Today, I don't care who you are or what sport you compete in, you'd have to light your genitals on fire before your competition to get that kind of viewership.'

"During the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy, the Olympics registered in the top 20 shows on Canadian television only twice, showing up in 18th and 19th place, well behind Desperate Housewives, American Idol and Grey's Anatomy.

"Even this year, with Canadian athletes poised to win big on their home turf, sports agents say there will be only so much money to go around.

" 'It's not nearly what people think it is,' said hockey marketer Brad Robins."

It seems like a pretty good analysis, notwithstanding the disturbing visual or the reporter for the CTVglobemedia-owned newspaper using three U.S.-imported TV shows that air on the CTVglobemedia-owned network as her example.

Time was, there was a stickiness if a Canadian won. There is major memory burn from Kerrin-Lee Gartner coming seemingly from out of nowhere to win the women's downhill in Albertville in 1992.

The name recognition just is not there. Take the commercials McDonalds is running where Canadian athletes deliver lines about how they go there regularly. To get someone to represent women's hockey, they didn't pick one of the younger Canadian mainstays such Meghan Agosta, Charline Labonté or Sarah Vaillancourt, or even a three-time Olympian such as Jayna Hefford (have to mention a fellow Kingstonian). Instead, their ads feature retired captain Cassie Campbell, since she's known through her work on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada. That's one hell of a tell.

Quebec is an exception. Out of necessity, a very concentrated media culture has developed in the French-speaking province. The sporting tastes are more influenced by Europe than in the ROC (Rest of Canada), so they don't forget about their Olympic stars in between games. (Quebec tastes, and this might surprise U.S. readers, also skew a little more American; people hold tailgate parties before football games there, which they didn't even do in Toronto for Buffalo Bills games.)

It would be nice if all Canadian winners had that available to them. Instead, there will be a mad scramble by athletes and their agents to fight for scraps. Hey, maybe CTV can make a reality show out of this. It's bound not to get canceled, like Canadian Idol.

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