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Cashing in before the Games begin

By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com

Wednesday, November 28

If you are looking for the American face of the 2002 Olympics two months before the games debut in Salt Lake City, there's actually two: Jean and Jen.

Within the past couple months, there have been no Winter Olympic athletes hotter than the "Bobsled Girls" -- driver Jean Racine and brakeperson Jen Davidson. That's thanks to the uniqueness of their sport, a legitimate chance at the gold and good looks and personality to boot.

Women's bobsled will debut as an Olympic sport in two months, and America is one of the favored countries, coming off a medals sweep at the Park City World Cup in Utah last February. As winners of the World Cup titles for the past two seasons, there's a lot of hype surrounding the hope of the team of Racine and Davidson, who are currently ranked fifth in the world.

"They are appealing by virtue of the fact that they are competing in a new sport and they have a chance to win," said Scott Becher, president of Sports and Sponsorships, a company that is the exclusive marketing agency of the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation.

On Tuesday, the two women and Olympic sprinter Maurice Green presented President George W. Bush with a International Olympic Committee blazer. On Wednesday, Racine made an appearance on NBC's "The Today Show." And Thursday is a Glamour Magazine shoot for the girls, while their agent, Evan Morgenstein, tries to sell their book rights.

Morganstein said the pair already has earned more than $500,000 in endorsements. Both have deals with Northwestern Mutual Insurance, General Motors, Visa and Kellogg's, while Davidson is sponsored by Nike and Racine is sponsored by Adidas and has a separate deal with Xerox. Cardboard displays of the girls soon can be found at GNC stores. They appear on television commercials for Visa, and an NBC commercial touts them as the "Fastest Girls on Ice." And the Kellogg's deal extends to three different cereal boxes. A gold could mean another $500,000 in endorsements, even in this tough economic environment, Morgenstein said.

"These aren't snowbum girls or military chicks," Morgenstein said. "They are as good as gold in front of the camera."

Bobsledding as a sport has become more appealing for corporations and fans alike since the 1993 movie, "Cool Runnings," in which a fictional Jamaican bobsled team found success, said Nova Lanktree, president of Lanktree Sports Celebrity Network, a company that matches advertisers with athletes for endorsements.

Bull riding gets networked
Although the Professional Bull Riders received its first national network broadcast on NBC last Sunday, there's already some serious money to be made if you have the guts to ride a bucking bull. The circuit's, 29-city 2001 tour had prize money totaling $7.2 million and the events are regularly shown on cable television. The purses are expected to grow in the future, said Mark Nestlen, a longtime Washington lobbyist turned bull-rider superagent, as the popularity of bull riding spreads from West to East much like NASCAR grew from the South to the North.

This year's rookie of the year, Luke Snyder, made $348,560, and that doesn't include his sponsorship deals, which start at 25,000 each, said Nestlen, who currently represents 19 cowboys. Unlike traditional sports agents who typically earn commissions from their client's contract money as well as endorsement dollars, Nestlen said he only earns money from selling advertising space on his cowboys. He gets no percentage of their winnings on the dirt. A sponsor's logo on a rider's vest typically logs 1 minute, 20 seconds worth of TV time per cable broadcast, which is worth $12,000 in equivalent advertising, according to Eric Wright of Joyce Julius, a sponsorship evaluation firm.

Pie on their face
That Tom Brady is still the New England Patriots' starting quarterback isn't disappointing news just for Drew Bledsoe, the team's season-opening starter who until last weekend had been sidelined with an injury since Week 2. It's also bad news for a pair of restaurant chains in New England that have built a promotional series around Bledsoe.

Papa Gino's, a chain of pizza restaurants, and its sister company, D'Angelo's Sandwich Shops, featured Bledsoe on TV advertising and sold collector's cups with his likeness as part of a contest that gave customers a chance to win Patriots tickets and have a tailgate party. The promotion ran from Oct. 1 through Nov. 24, a time span during which Bledsoe never took a snap. But if you missed out on the first wave, don't fret. An ESPN.com trip to D'Angelo's on Tuesday revealed a new Drew promotion: Bledsoe "Bendos" figures for $2.99 each.

Mueller becomes Hall of Famer
When University of Wisconsin basketball player Curt Mueller got out of school, he put his pharmacology degree to work. He concocted sports creams, rubs and ointments, then traveled around to high schools in his Volkswagen making the pitch. His company has grown from a couple of products and $450 in revenue in that first year (1961) to more than 200 products today, ranging from wrestling mat disinfectant to rosin batter and pitcher bags. In April, Mueller will join the ranks of sports helmet creator John Riddell and ball manufacturer Albert Spaulding, and some 100 other distinguished sporting goods contributors in the Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame.

Some of Mueller's best inventions include Quench Gum, which help athletes combat dry mouth and adhesive eye black stickers called "No Glare" strips, which don't smear and prevent athletes from getting grease on their hands. Five years ago, Mueller got even smarter and put the "Mueller" name on the strips. If you look close enough under the eyes of many college football quarterbacks, you'll see his name.

Bonds gets new marketer
Free agent Barry Bonds has done very little in the corporate world throughout his 16-year career. He's had a few deals, including those with Fila, Armour Hot Dogs, Disneyworld and Wheaties after he broke Mark McGwire's single-season home run record. While many sports marketing experts say Bonds' previous problems with the media have hurt his marketability, others say his home run media appearances helped turn his image around.

"Incredible success will always get the attention of corporate America," said John Eckels of Hill & Knowlton, the public relations firm that represents Mark McGwire during his home run chase in 1998. "I think he will have more overtures and there will be deals if he wants to make a concerted effort to work in the corporate world. There are a lot of things an athlete has to do beyond just being on the cereal box and he'd have to be comfortable doing that."

This week, Bonds' endorsements were taken over by Florida-based Pro Access, who also represents Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith. "Barry's definitely interested in establishing long-term relationships with partners he believes in," said Eric Levin, president of Pro Access. "He won't just sell out to any company to make money."

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at darren.rovell@espn.com.