LONDON (Reuters) - Jamaican Usain Bolt leaves his rivals trailing on the track and will outsell them off it by combining his unparalleled athletic achievement with personal appeal.
Bolt looks certain to improve on annual earnings of $20 million after retaining his 100 meters Olympic title and the world record on Sunday night. He needs a higher profile in the United States to join the ranks of the very richest athletes but that should not be beyond the fastest man in the world.
The gangly 25-year-old, tall for his sport at 1.96 meters (6ft 5in), is an advertising man’s dream. His name is made for his profession and he has won fans on the biggest global stage with a unique cocktail of cheek and cool.
”The fastest man of all time is a big statement to be able to make,“ said Joel Seymour-Hyde of sports marketing agency Octagon. ”Beyond that, you have his stature. He is an iconic-looking figure.
“Then you have the charisma and personality. 100 meter runners are always big on bravado but it’s unique to have someone so smiley and relaxed,” he said.
Famous for his much-mimicked “Lightning Bolt” pose at the end of races, Bolt has a series of lucrative sponsorship deals.
He is the face of German sportswear company Puma, which also sponsors the Jamaican national team. He also looms large on a poster for Olympic sponsor Visa adorning the Westfield shopping centre on the edge of the Olympic Park.
Bolt’s success was a fillip for Puma, number three in sportswear sales behind Nike and Adidas, which said last month it would cut back on sponsorship deals after second quarter earnings slumped.
Puma is not an Olympic sponsor and can only start a fresh marketing campaign built around Bolt next week once the Games are over.
Puma has tapped into Jamaica’s image as a laid-back and vibrant country to help sell Bolt and his team mates, and signed up Cedella Marley, daughter of reggae music great Bob Marley, to design Jamaica’s Olympic kit.
Bolt, in return, has helped refresh the image of the Caribbean island, said Peter Walshe of brand specialists Millward Brown.
Walshe said Bolt’s calm in the face of immense stress widened his appeal.
“With Bolt, there is something that goes beyond sport. It’s his attitude to life, how he conquers pressure with humor, that mixture of humility and arrogance,” he said.
He compared Bolt’s marketability with former England soccer captain David Beckham, one of the most well-known sports celebrities Britain has produced.
Beckham broke the back of the all-important U.S. market after joining LA Galaxy, and ranks 8th in Forbes’ latest survey of top earning sports personalities. Bolt was the highest track and field athlete but only 63rd overall in a list topped by boxer Floyd Mayweather.
“He absolutely has the ability to crack the U.S. market,” said Mike Principe, CEO of TLA Worldwide, a company which represents U.S. hurdler Lolo Jones as well as baseball players and golfers.
Track and field does not have the regular exposure enjoyed by the biggest U.S. sports and has to exploit the Olympic spotlight every four years, Principe said.
Puma was certain to step up marketing efforts after London.
“I would make use of his big personality, smile and humor,” Principe said.
“Demographically, he is going to appeal quite heavily to the younger American male,” he added. “I think you will also find a fair number of women interested in Usain as well.”
Editing by Sonya Hepinstall