Cashing in on Olympic Gold

Michael Phelps, the eight-time gold medalist in Beijing, has won more gold than any Olympic athlete ever. Just because the torch has been extinguished, though, doesn't mean Phelps' gold rush is over.

Actually, the gold mining has only just begun.

"If you're Michael Phelps, sitting there with those eight gold medals, the gold is just waiting to be cashed in, and the answer is yes he will," said Christine Brennan, USA Today columnist and ABC News sports consultant.

When the Beijing Olympics kicked off Aug. 8, Phelps was already cashing in. He'd earned a reported $5 million annually from endorsements for Visa, PowerBar, Omega, AT&T and Speedo.

Ryan Schinman, a sports marketing consultant and CEO of Platinum Rye Entertainment, told ABC News, "Most major corporations, whether it is an AT&T, Visa or Speedo, they are looking years in advance who to attach themselves to in these Olympic Games. By the time the Olympics come around, they have a game plan."

Speedo had a strategy in place indeed. In the middle of his quest for eight gold medals in Beijing, Phelps received a widely publicized $1 million bonus from Speedo for his effort in breaking Mark Spitz's 36-year-old record of seven in one Olympic Games.

Now that Phelps has won all eight, many in the sports marketing industry believe Phelps' corporate income could set new records. Many major corporations have jumped on the gold medal bandwagon.

Phelps is on his way to your breakfast table. Kellogg's, the cereal company, is featuring the eight-time gold medal-winning swimmer on special edition boxes of Corn Flakes and Frosted Flakes. They are expected to hit shelves across to the United States in mid-September.

Visa also hasn't wasted anytime launching advertisements in Beijing and the United States featuring Phelps in and out of the pool.

Phelps isn't the only champion taking advantage of his athletic feats. Shortly after American gymnast Nastia Liukin took gold in all-around gymnastics, Visa showed her its brand-new limited edition credit card with a picture of her leaping across it. Liukin is loving it.

"This is so cool," she exclaimed when ABC News showed her the card. Visa says the card will be made available to customers throughout the United States this fall.

Sometimes when athletes win on the world stage, their corporate sponsors also come away extra lucky.

Three-time Olympic champion Usain Bolt is the perfect example. Following his 100-meter record-breaking win, Bolt pulled off his gold Puma running shoes. When he held up his shoes for the crowd, cameras zoomed in and Puma scored a priceless advertisement that surely made Nike and Adidas cringe.

"When they have a deal with a gentleman like Bolt who wears gold Puma sneakers, then takes them off after the race and shows them to the world, they just picked the right guy and he ultra-performed," sports marketing consultant Schinman explained to ABC News.

Puma is the first and the beginning what probably will be a cascade of sponsorship deals for Bolt.

"Take a look at what he is all about. Fast. What comes to mind you have watches, you have energy drinks," Schinman said. "You have that big smile maybe someone like Crest says, 'That's [the] smile I want behind my white strips.'"

Athletes Tread Carefully

However, not every gold medalist lives the sponsorship fairy tale. A champion who might seem monumentally important during the Olympics sometimes fades out of public view.

For example, take Mary Lou Retton and Carly Patterson. Retton captured gold in 1984 and 24 years later remains a household name. Patterson also won the gold in women's gymnastics four years ago but hasn't had the same staying power.

In general, Americans have short memories. Will they remember the newly crowned gymnastics champion Nastia Liukin next year? It's a question that every champion and agent must consider in the afterglow of the Games.

Athletes and agents are well aware of the possibility of obscurity, and Phelps and his team are trying to make sponsorship decisions carefully. Surely it will be difficult for the eight-time gold medalist to completely fade away, but maximizing his star power in the long run is a different challenge.

For Phelps, appearances and endorsement possibilities have undoubtedly been flying from all directions. Phelps and his agent, Peter Carlisle at Octagon, are thinking carefully about their next steps to balance his clean-cut American image and cash in on one of the best sports marketing opportunities in history.

Carlisle told The Wall Street Journal last week that he expects Phelps' current annual earnings to at least double.

"What is the value of eight golds in Beijing before a prime-time audience in the U.S?" Carlisle told the newspaper. "I'd say $100 million over the course of his lifetime."

Phelps and Retton before him are two of a long series of American athletes who have taken advantage of their Olympic success. Many athletes, like decathlete Olympic champion Bruce Jenner, have made careers out of their Olympic fame.

American track star Carl Lewis has done the same. Twelve years after winning his last gold medal, Lewis came to Beijing to root for American athletes, and to promote McDonald's and their Champion Kids program.

At the fast food chain's promotional event, Lewis talked to children about what makes a champion and how one day he hoped to see the children racing on the track or winning in the Olympic pool.

"One day some of these kids are going to be Olympians and I will be excited to watch that," he told ABC News.

In the meantime, McDonald's is more than happy to watch Lewis in action.

Soon, Lewis will be joined by another Olympic champion, Phelps, and together the famous Olympians will continue mining more gold from their hard-won medals.