Caixin
Jul 31, 2012 02:51 PM

The Curse of the Gold Medal

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Wei Ning received a silver medal for women's skeet in her third Olympic Games in London


I seriously doubt that the term "first gold medal economics" is part of sports marketing.

The Beijing Olympics four years ago is a good example. The Chinese shooting team then had six major sponsors: Li Ning, Skyworth, Wuliangye (Five Grain Liquor), Huarun Paints, Jiuhe Food and Haoshili, an eye treatment product with a name meaning good eyesight

As one of China's major athletic clothing brands and long-time sports sponsor, Li Ning knew the rules and understood the impact of the Olympics. Li Ning placed a permanent marketing representative on the shooting team in case they did well early on in the Games. Once Du Li and Zhao Yinghui won the shooting championship to become the first gold medal winners of the Beijing Olympics, they would wear Li Ning's special Dragon uniforms and soon after be awarded 1 million yuan.

Other companies have been spending huge money on sponsorships as well. In 2008, Skyworth spent hundreds of millions of yuan on the shooting team. Wuliangye announced that whoever won the first gold medal would get a 10 million yuan award. The rest of champions would get 1 million.

No one would have thought that the commercial value of the medals could be categorized in such a way. People in marketing circles describe this style of marketing gamble as a double-edge sword. In order to get a foothold, almost all sponsors pour their resources into certain athletes with the hope that he or she will win first. If it works, the gamble will be a big boost to the company image. If not, it will be a waste of money.

This isn't the first time there has been crazy business over gold medals at the Olympics. For decades, the Chinese shooting team has been under great pressure to win the first medal. Shooting events are early in the schedule, and at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, Xu Haifeng won China's first-ever gold medal.

Xu is destined to live his whole life in the light of his 1984 gold medal. He is currently the deputy director of the Chinese Cycling and Fencing Administration. Before every Olympics, Xu gives many interviews and makes multiple public appearances. His disciple, Tao Luna, won a gold medal at the 2000 Olympics, but afterwards was in a messy divorce with her husband and couldn't reclaim her form in the field.

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