Following swimmer Sun Yang 's record-breaking victory in the 1500m at the London Olympics last Sunday, which was his second gold of the Games, advertisements for a sportswear brand he endorses were ubiquitous on the Web, with ads being run after netizens clicked on popular video websites.
Sun Yang celebrates his gold medal in the men's 400m freestyle during the London 2012 Olympic Games swimming competition, 28 July 2012. [Xinhua]
Such is the interest in Sun that he even outranks Chinese badminton legend Lin Dan and tennis superstar Li Na in terms of Internet searches on Sina Weibo, with almost 600,000 searches. The new swimming sensation has so far attracted nearly 10 million fans on Weibo.
Brand operators have been searching for new spokespersons in China since the 2008 Beijing Olympics and Sun has been just one beneficiary of this, having signed sponsorship deals with Yili Dairy, 361 Degrees and Coco Cola. According to rumors, his deal with sportswear manufacturer 361 Degrees offered him a sponsorship deal of 1 million yuan (US$157,042) last year.
The freestyle gold medalist can expect to see his commercial value soar following his exploits in London, while the three companies he already endorses have begun to reap benefits from their association with the swimmer.
On August 3, Yili launched an Olympic-themed interactive campaign online, which, as a result of Sun's extraordinary popularity, registered 100,000 visits on the day it was launched.
Sportswear company 361 Degrees also saw its stocks surge by 5.26 percent when the Hong Kong Stock Exchange opened on August 2.
Meanwhile, a large 361 Degrees advertisement endorsed by Sun has been placed on the homepage of the sportswear brand's online flagship shop at TMall.com. Within a week, the shop sold 873 pieces of a T-shirt bearing Sun's signature.
According to Zhao Yanhong, director of Public Affairs & Communications at Coca-Cola China, Sun Yang has great marketing potential and will play a leading role in this regard among the new generation of Chinese athletes.
Sun could be the next Liu Xiang as far as advertising in China is concerned, and Coca-Cola will make a long-term plan for its cooperation with him, Zhao said.
According to insiders, Sun's commercial value has skyrocketed to 10 million yuan during the London Olympics, rivaling Liu Xiang's commercial appreciation at the 2004 Athens Olympics. There is no doubt that companies will be queuing up to sign sponsorship deals with Sun after the Games, just as they did with Li Na and Liu Xiang following their sensational successes.
Following her win at the 2011 French Open, Li won 10 advertising contracts within three months and Liu, following his victory in the 110m hurdles at the Athens Olympics, snagged 14 contracts between Olympic cycles. Forbes figures showed that Liu's income in 2011 totaled 28.8 million yuan. It is likely that Sun will surpass these figures.
In addition to international major brands, online retailers are also involved in the rush to cash in on business opportunities which will come from being associated with Sun's name.
Swimming goggles, caps and trunks similar to those worn by Sun have become instantly fashionable among the public, with an Olympic swimming cap alleged bearing Sun's signature selling for 15,000 yuan during an online sale. In addition, the Speedo branded sportswear Sun used in Olympic events has also seen a huge increase in sales.
Meanwhile, creative commodities such as "dried beef eaten by Sun Yang" and "earphones used by Sun Yang at the London Olympics" have also begun to appear.