The slippery sponsorship slope facing Team GB's Olympic snowboard star Jenny Jones

By John Reynolds |

February 11, 2014 | 5 min read

If snowboarder Jenny Jones thinks an Olympic bronze medal will jump her into mega-riches through new sponsorship offers, she would be minded to take note of Greg Rutherford’s plight.

Jenny Jones

Jones was the sporting darling of Great Britain last week when she won Team GB’s first medal of the Sochi Winter Olympics in the slopestyle final.

Rewind 18 months and Rutherford was the darling when he unexpectedly snatched a long-jump medal at the London 2012 Olympics, though his was gold.

Last year, Rutherford lost his key sponsorship deal with Nike, who according to Rutherford, then 26, wanted to focus on younger athletes.

Jones is 33 and at the end of last year, weeks before the start of the Sochi Winter Olympics, her sponsorship deal with Coke’s Relentless brand – her headwear sponsor – ended.

Sponsorship can be ruthless, if not ageist, at the top.

Dominic Curran, managing director of sport sponsorship agency Synergy, said: “You only have to look at the London Olympics. Look at how many athletes got medals and how many of them do you see featured by mainstream brands beyond the handful of five that you may have known before the games started?”

When it comes to earning potential through sponsorship, the likes of Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah are not in a different league to Winter Olympians; they are on a different planet.

Jones is, in fact, a rarity in the world of snowboarding as her good looks, clubbable personality and longevity in the sport have allowed her to make a good living out of her ability to half-cab, sideslip and flex.

Currently, she has sponsorship deals with sunglasses brand Oakley, snowboard maker Salomon and camera company Pentax.

Jones needs these deals, as central funding from UK Sport into winter sports is a pittance compared to summer sports.

Skiing and snowboarding combined get £1.5m over an Olympic cycle spread across 10 athletes, out of a total Winter Olympics pot of £13.4m.

By comparison, a summer Olympic sport such as Taekwondo gets £8m while wheelchair basketball gets £5.3m over the same period.

Likewise, prize money for winning major snowboarding events is relatively small, between £6,000 and £12,000, a paltry amount particularly when you are flying country-to-country to compete.

Compare that to a mainstream sport, such as golf: Phil Mickelson received £945,000 for winning last year’s Open Championship.

Winter sports are, of course, of marginal interest in the UK and, likewise, of little interest to corporate mainstream brands. Proctor & Gamble, Unilever and other large corporates are largely absent from snowboarding.

Perhaps this is down to the small window of opportunity that winter sports afford a brand: outside of the Winter Olympics every four years, there is little mainstream coverage of snowboarding.

Allied to this, though, is that winter sport athletes – especially snowboarders – are a particular breed of person: maverick and free-spirited, which are traits at odds with the value of big corporate companies.

Lesley McKenna, team manager for Team GB’s snowboard park and pipe team, said: “A lot of them are too corporate to take the risk to involve themselves because the guerrilla type of content creation maybe puts some of them off.”

Snowboarders themselves are not only big on social media, they are big on content creation – mainly left-of-field, daredevil content.

US snowboard star and Sochi gold medallist Sage Kotsenburg, for instance, appears in his own web series called the Holy Crail.

Similarly Red Bull, another big brand in snowboarding, creates a lot of its own snowboarding content working with stars of the slopes.

According to McKenna, the character traits of an individual snowboarder, perhaps more than in any other sport, are integral to a sponsorship deal, so an athlete can work with say a helmet sponsor in carving out an individual style which is reflected through the brand.

Despite the likes of Nike and Oakley throwing their weight into snowboarding, the sport has just a few stars, and there is a graveyard of failed snowboarders who have quit because of its sheer expense.

Let’s hope Jones' compatriot Billy Morgan, a burgeoning talent who can’t make money out of the sport despite a deal with Redbull, doesn’t follow suit.

And so Jones is one of the fortunate few.

But after her day in the sun, the harsh reality will hit home when she returns from Sochi.

Experts believe the chances of Jones luring in a big, long-term sponsorship deal on the back of a bronze media in a marginal sport are frankly zero.

On the flip-side, Jones will be in receipt of a load of offers of short-term tactical campaigns in the immediate aftermath of Sochi, along with media and appearance opportunities.

But this won’t last long, as World Cup fever will then start in earnest, so she needs to jump at the chance while it lasts.


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