54.4 F
Fort Worth
Thursday, May 26, 2022
[the_ad_group id="289328"]

Oh, no … Apolo Ohno! Reflections on an (almost) endorsement deal

🕐 5 min read

By John Fletcher

Apolo Ohno continues to haunt my dreams today.

On Monday, Feb. 25, 2002 – the day after the Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City ended, USA Today listed the five biggest winners of the competition.

Among the five biggest winners was Apolo Ohno, who had won the gold medal in the 1,500 meter and silver in the 1,000-meter short track speedskating. He would skate victoriously through the 2010 Olympics, earning a record 10 medals.

USA Today stated that Apolo had been in a collision with other skaters behind the leader in the final turn of the 500-meter race, but that he had the presence of mind to climb out of the pack and back onto his skates, cross the finish line, and in doing so, win the silver.

The newspaper suggested that since he had received a severe cut on one of his shins in the collision, he should receive an endorsement from Band-Aid.

My first thought was: Unless, of course, he didn’t use the Band-Aid brand. What if the Team USA trainers used Spenco Second Skin … which was my Waco-based client!!!

At the time, I owned Fletcher Communications based in Waco, an advertising agency. I asked my team to reach out to the Salt Lake City hospital where Apolo had been treated, to learn if he had received treatment with Spenco Second Skin.

I met some resistance as some implied that I would be asking hospital personnel to violate confidential medical records. I reassured them by saying, “There is a legal, honest, and ethical way to gather the information.”

While my team contacted the hospital, I reached out to our client, the president of Spenco Medical, and he authorized me to pursue an endorsement with Apolo. I tracked down Apolo’s agent and called to begin negotiations.

The agent agreed to allow Spenco Medical to:

  • Use Apolo’s photo/likeness in print and broadcast advertising, as well as on the Spenco Medical website.
  • Hold one photo/video session per year of the agreement.
  • Feature Apolo in two speaking engagements at trade shows or corporate events: Format would be Q&A – Apolo would never do a podium speech – and subject to his availability on requested dates.

I negotiated a fee of less than $100,000 per year for three years with an option to renew – remember, this was TWENTY years ago, so I can only imagine what that fee would be today.

My public relations director said that the hospital personnel would not release the information because it was confidential.

I then called the hospital and asked for the director of nursing in the emergency department. I introduced myself and the nurse immediately said, “I know who you are. You’re with Fletcher Communications in Waco, Texas. We can’t release that information. It’s confidential and you know that! Dr. Heiden is the attending physician, and he won’t tell you either.”

I then replied, “I don’t need that information at all. I represent the makers of Spenco Second Skin. I’d appreciate you checking your records and, if you indeed did use Spenco Second Skin, please call Mr. Ohno or his representatives and ask them to call me. Tell them that I have already negotiated a sponsor endorsement with his agent that would earn him upward almost $100,000 per year for three years.” I gave her my phone number.

Within minutes, I received a call back. “Hi, John, this is Dr. Heiden … Eric Heiden.” (yes, the very SAME Eric Heiden who had won gold medals in all five speedskating events in the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid). “I want to thank you for the way you asked the question. It’s clear that you understand the limitations of what we can and can’t tell you. I’ve reached out to Apolo, and he gave me permission to tell you that we did use Spenco Second Skin.”

And now… the REST of the story!

I was sitting in rarified air:

  • I had recognized an opportunity and responded quickly with an Olympic hero.
  • Apolo Ohno’s team had approved the endorsement.
  • The client was enthusiastic about the three-year deal.
  • The endorsement would benefit my client greatly, tying into an Olympic hero.
  • This endorsement would raise my firm’s profile for creativity and promotion.

Unfortunately, the client’s CEO, in an unrelated matter, terminated my client, the company president, who was the champion of the endorsement.

The CEO said that he was not in the mood to discuss any endorsement due to the disruption in his executive suite. Essentially, the deal was off.

I gave the CEO two days of breathing room and tried again. However, the deal was dead.

For the past 20 years, Apolo has tormented me:

  • People Magazine named him One of America’s 50 Most Beautiful People of 2009.
  • He won Dancing with the Stars in 2007 with partner Julianne Hough.
  • His list of endorsements eventually included McDonald’s, General Electric, Vicks, Coca Cola, and Alaska Airlines. For the 2010 Olympic Games, the airline even designed a Boeing 737-800 jet with his image wrapped on the side.
  • He appeared as an NBC commentator for the 2014 Sochi Games and the 2018 PyeongChang Games.
  • He was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 2019.

Please pardon me if I don’t truly enjoy the Winter Olympics – particularly the short track speedskating – every four years, because I recall the deal that almost was.

And I still have Ohno-phobia!

John Fletcher is the CEO of Fletcher Consulting, a local marketing and public relations firm.

Our Digital Sponsors

Related Articles