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’Tens of millions of dollars’ on the table if Andre De Grasse wins gold in Rio

Which Canadian athletes stand to gain the most from a big performance in Rio?

’Tens of millions of dollars’ on the table if Andre De Grasse wins gold in Rio

It is a tall order considering no one has usurped him at the Olympics in nearly a decade, and his racing resume is lined with gold.

But 21-year-old Andre De Grasse from Markham, Ont., will be looking to unseat Usain Bolt as the fastest man on earth in Rio.

And if he does, he could rack up millions of dollars in sponsorship and marketing opportunities.

De Grasse, who will line up next to Bolt in the men’s 100m on Aug. 13, headlines a list of Canadian athletes who could vault a strong performance at the games in Brazil into lucrative sponsorship and marketing deals.

Sports agent Brad Robins -- who represents star NHL goaltender Carey Price, his teammate Brendan Gallagher, as well as surefire Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur – told Yahoo Finance Canada that De Grasse could stand to make “tens of millions of dollars” off a gold-medal victory in Rio.


“If (De Grasse) does anything substantive, and in the perfect world, comes second to Bolt or even beats him, (he) becomes recognized as the fastest human on the planet,” said Robins.

“Those types of touch points are second to none.”

De Grasse also signed a multi-year deal with Puma worth US$11.25 million, with performance-based bonuses that could see that number jumped to $30 million.

But does the sprinter have a legitimate shot at the title?

He certainly has an impressive pedigree of his own, despite the relative greenness of his career.

The 21-year-old is part of the exclusive 10-second barrier club, which spans just over 100 names and includes only three other Canadians, one being Olympic gold medalist Donovan Bailey.

De Grasse is also coming off a bronze-medal winning run at the 2015 International Association of Athletics Federations world champions in Beijing, which attracted the attention of the track world as well as Puma.

His career-best 9.92 seconds in the 100m final placed him just behind American Justin Gatlin and Bolt, who were a hair’s breadth ahead at 9.80 and 9.79 respectively.

He also ran a wind-assisted 9.75 in the 100m final of the 2015 NCAA championships to win the title and came in first in the 200m.

De Grasse repeated the feat in 100m and 200m races on home turf at the 2015 Pan American Games last July in Toronto.

But De Grasse isn’t the only Canadian athlete who stands to make significant financial gains should they make headlines in Rio.

Brooke Henderson

Another candidate is Brooke Henderson, who at just 18-years-old has already taken the golf world by storm.

The native of Smiths Falls, Ont. already has more than US$1.4 million career earnings under her belt, including her first major victory at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, and is currently the third-ranked golfer in the world.

Henderson is already backed by RBC, which Robins describes as a having a “top-10 advertising budget in this market,” but could stand to make further gains with a strong Olympic games (she tees off on Aug. 17), especially given the popularity of the women’s game in Asia.

Fellow sports agent Russell Reimer --  who represents a slew of Olympians including Jon Montgomery, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Mark McMorris and Erik Guay, as well as several athletes who are headed to Rio including flag bearer Rosie MacLennan, middle-distance runner Melissa Bishop and kayaker Adam van Koeverden – echoed Robins’ statements, saying the games could be her “coming out party.”

“She can be one of these very rare athletes that can use the Olympics to crossover to the mainstream,” said Reimer, calling Henderson a “great personality" and an “incredible talent.”

“You can really reach an audience that has never watched golf before, so I think Brooke Henderson – she’s smart, she’s young – she understands this.

Reimer said athletes often don’t see immediate dividends from big performances, but they can be leveraged into two or three-year sponsorship deals with options going into the next Olympics.

He said most Canadian athletes who are coming off a medal-winning performance make roughly more than $100,000 over the term of the agreement, or about $50,000 a year, but a gold medal in the top-billing sports, such as a golf, can be worth five or 10 times that.

With its corporate presence and strong TV ratings, Reimer said golf might even exceed track and field athletes in their “crossover appeal.”

Melissa Bishop

One of those track and field athletes that Reimer said is in a position to vault themselves to newfound fortune, is his client and 800m runner Melissa Bishop.

The 27-year-old is only the third woman to clock in at under 2:00 minutes in the event, breaking the national record with a time of 1:57.52 at the 2015 World Athletics Championship. She eventually went on to win silver at the tournament.

Reimer hopes Bishop will be able to turn in a strong performance at the game, which could put her in a position to be the “face of women’s running in Canada.”

“Right now, we don’t have anyone who occupies that position,” he said, calling her upside “incredible.”

“If Melissa does well at the games it is hers to hold.”

Reimer said Bishop already has a partner in Nike Canada, but Bishop could attract further sponsorship and generate income from speaking engagements. He said potential earnings could set her up for a “very comfortable” life, which would allow her to fully focus on her training until the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Kia Nurse

Robins and Reimer also pointed to 20-year-old basketball star Kia Nurse as an athlete with breakout potential.

The sophomore guard for the University of Connecticut Huskies will suit up with a Canadian squad that won a gold medal at the 2015 Pan Am Games. She also won MVP with the team at the 2015 FIBA Americas Women’s Championship.

In addition to her impressive list of accolades, the Hamilton, Ont. native boasts strong bloodlines: her father, Richard, played wide receiver in the CFL, her mother, Cathy, suited up for McMaster University’s basketball team, her sister, Tamika played basketball at Oregon and Bowling Green Universities and her brother, Darnell, is a former top-10 draft pick and defenceman for the Edmonton Oilers.

Nurse’s uncle is also former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb.

Reimer said Nurse and 20-year-old Kadeisha Buchanan, who is a defensive stalwart for the women’s soccer team that is hoping for redemption after their heartbreaking loss in the semi-final of the 2012 Olympics, could both become icons on the national stage in these emerging women’s sports.

“The same way I look at Melissa Bishop as the emerging face of running in Canada … I think the same way of Kadeisha and Kia,” he said.

Meanwhile, Reimer said Canadian athletes, like soccer star Christine Sinclair, who have already achieved a level of fame on the national stage have less to gain from a strong Olympic campaign.

Sinclair already has partnerships with Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola, among others, and likely realized her potential in terms of sponsorship coming off her remarkable performance in London.

Despite Nurse’ obvious marketability, Robins said her potential earnings, and many other Canadian athletes, will be “at best” 10 per cent of what an American equivalent would receive.

“If she’s that person in the U.S., and the leader of the U.S. women’s basketball (gold-medal winning) team … it is automatically ten times whatever the number is (here),” he said.

Robins said there just isn’t the same amount of cash available to sponsors in Canada.

He estimated that beyond less than a dozen hockey players, and a handful of their counterparts in basketball and baseball, there are very few seven-figure deals.

“The dollars people expect when they’re looking for U.S. comparisons, they’re not (there),” said Robins.

He said among top-50 advertisers in Canada, budgets are generally not more than $10 million, so Olympics athletes who are on the sporting main stage every four years as often face the squeeze as companies select brand ambassadors.

In fact, most of the funding available to Canadian athletes in the immediate months after a strong performance Olympics come in the form of speaking engagements.

That was the case with Reimer’s client Jon Montgomery, who won the gold medal in men’s skeleton at the 2010 games in Vancouver and famously chugged a pitcher of beer following the victory.

“What resonated with Canadians is that he got the party started,” said Reimer.

“Everybody wanted Jon to come and not only talk to them but share a bit of the excitement and enthusiasm that he had shown at the Olympic games.”

Reimer said a similar phenomenon happened with speed skater Gilmore Junio who gave up his spot in the 1,000 m race in the 2014 Sochi games, so his compatriot, Dennis Morrison, who fell in the selection trials, could take his place. Morrison went on to take home the silver medal in the event.

Reimer said athletes can make between $10,000 and $15,000 per speaking engagement. And, depending on the level of success, they can book anywhere from five to 10 stops in a three-to-four month period, with 20 being the most he has seen.

And ultimately, Reimer said, it is the ability of an athlete to leave a lasting impression on the Canadian psyche, like Junio’s heartwarming sacrifice, in addition to factors such as personality and relevance to the Canadian audience and performance, which will dictate how much their financial wellbeing will change after the Olympics.

“Storytelling is the currency of the games: people fall in love with athletes because they believe they represent the best of themselves. And if you happen to also get a medal, that medal can become becomes a multiplier,” he said.

“But if haven’t done that story work in advance, that medal doesn’t create magic.”