U.S. Olympic Champions: Turning Gold into Gold
August 03, 2021
By Jim Jacaruso
The 2021 Tokyo Olympics are finally underway after a year of many uncertainties and delays. With mixed reviews coming in, NBC is pulling out all the stops to entice viewers to tune into the Olympic coverage on their channels and Peacock, their streaming platform. The challenge NBC faces is how can they set this broadcast apart from years past and encourage people to not only tune in, but subscribe to their platform? There are no live spectators this year so they are utilizing a tried-and-true strategy, bringing in well-known former Olympic competitors to announce and analyze the games. This year, NBC brought in the most decorated Olympian, Michael Phelps, and 2008 all-around gymnastics champion, Nastia Liukin, to give insights on the sports in which they had dominated.
The knowledge and perspective these athletes provide is unmatched, Phelps and Liukin know the ins and outs of their respective sports, and they can share unique perspectives that viewers will not get from any other sources. Most notably, Nastia Liukin offered valuable insight for the viewers on Simone Biles decision to withdraw from the team gymnastics finals. A move that left many people confused about what it meant and how this would impact the team, Liukin shared not only admiration and appreciation for the decision, but also provided clarity for the viewer with an insightful analysis.
Liukin is not alone in her respect for the current competitors. Phelps has praised Katie Ledecky, widely considered to be one of the greatest swimmers of all time, and is giving his thoughts on the biggest swimming races this year. The commentators are a very important part of the Olympic coverage, because they are able to share the stories of the competitors and provide competitive insights. Phelps’ knowledge of competing at this level is a welcome addition to watching Ledecky take home medals and set records.
While Michael Phelps is a novice at broadcasting, he receives mostly rave reviews for his commentary and seems comfortable in this new role. He provides energy and insights to the broadcast and streaming experiences. However, he does not need this gig. His Olympic gold medals have allowed him to make the move from a swimmer faced with exorbitant training expenses to a brand worth approximately $55 million to $80 million.
Phelps, the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time, made his Olympic debut at the 2000 Sydney Summer Games, but did not medal. Thus, he probably continued to incur the following annual expenses: $2,500 swim club membership fees, $500 equipment costs, $4,000-$5,000 travel costs for each of three or four tournament trips, as well as physical therapy, training and sport psychology costs. Starting in 2004—when he won six gold and two bronze medals—the endorsements started to roll in, but his brand exploded when he won eight golds, breaking Mark Spitz’s 36-year-old record of seven golds. In all, Phelps won 28 medals, including 23 golds.
Phelps’ Olympic success landed him major corporate sponsors, and some of the brands he represents or has in the past include Intel, Subway, Under Armor, Beats, Radio Shack, Call of Duty, Omega, Visa, and Head & Shoulders. He has been on the Wheaties and Corn Flakes cereal boxes and posed for Louis Vuitton. He promotes KRAVD Jerky on Instagram and he partners with Aqua Sphere to lunch the MP brand swim equipment.
Phelps also gives back. He earned a $1 million bonus from Speedo for winning his eighth gold in 2008, which he donated to the Michael Phelps Foundation that supports water safety, healthy (physical and mental) living; as well as the Level Field Fund to assist with swimmers in financial need to pursue their dreams.
Unlike Phelps, Nastia is anything but a novice Olympic commentator; she’s been one for years. She has nine world championship medals and is one of three U.S. gymnasts to earn five medals in a single non-boycotted Olympics along with Shannon Miller and Simone Biles.
Like Phelps, Nastia has turned her Olympic medals into even more gold. She transitioned to film and television, with a cameo appurtenance in Touchstone’s 2006 film Stick It, an episode of Gossip Girl, a cameo on Bravo’s NYC Prep, and made the rounds on the talks show circuit on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and The Oprah Winfrey Show. She was a guest model on The Price is Right and showcased her diverse talents making it to the semi-finals on season 20 of Dancing with the Stars with her partner Derek Hough and competed on American Ninja Warrior. She returned to season 27 of Dancing with the Stars as a trio with partners Mary Lou Retton and Sasha Farber.
Nastia was an analyst for the 2010 Olympics and special correspondent for the 2014 Olympics, but she is making a much bigger splash this year, not only with her commentating by making gymnastic more relatable to viewers, but with her bright, bold attire. Her monochromatic orange outfit and purple pants have gone viral on social media, garnering praise from just about everyone, including former teammate Shawn Johnson.
Although Nastia’s net worth, estimated to be between $3 million and $5 million, might not be in Michael Phelps territory, her star is on the rise and she is proving that you can turn Olympic success into financial and career success. Including experienced former competitors and champions that viewers remember cheering on in the past should help improve the audience experience and make for stronger coverage.