Ashley Wagner and Olympic Ads

The Olympics, every other year, are an extremely effective revenue generator for a host of different organizations. Most prominent among them is NBC, who has paid over $12 billion since 2011 to the International Olympic Committee for broadcasting rights, just through the 2032 Games. However, many different corporations take advantage of the expansive international audience that the Olympics seem to bring to TV, by sponsoring famous athletes or production elements in hopes of catching the eyes of consumers.

Many of these contracts are set in stone long before the games begin. Companies gamble on who will make the Olympic team, relying on preliminary projections to secure contracts with athletes before qualifying events actually begin. So what happens when these hyped-up athletes fall short, and don’t make it onto the Olympic team?

Ashley Wagner, a bronze medalist four years ago in Sochi, was a long-time favorite to make the Olympic team after strong performances at recent competitions. However, at the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, she finished a disappointing fourth place, and she was left off the team by the selection committee. This was a reversal of four years ago, where the Olympic selection committee had named her to the team despite her fourth-place finish over the third-place finisher, Mirai Nagasu.

Wagner’s disappointing finish came as a large blow not just to her, but to her host of sponsors, who had signed on likely hedging that she’d be named to her second Olympic team. They were left with little recourse, however; most advertisements are pieced together well ahead of their original airtime. The short turnaround between the Olympic trials—or, in the case of figure skating, the U.S. Figure Skating Championships—means that companies are forced to run with material aggregated long before the final rosters are determined.

To this end, Wagner’s spots with Bridgestone and Toyota, filmed in June and September respectively, aired frequently during the Pyeongchang games despite the figure skater’s absence from the competition. Though both companies professed to the Washington Post their continued faith in Wagner, it’s difficult to believe that the ads’ effectiveness isn’t disrupted by Wagner’s failure to qualify; perhaps it’s time for a change in how - or when - companies pick their athletes for future Olympic advertisements.