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Olympic star Gabrielle Douglas can smile, all the way to the bank

Douglas, the breakout gymnastics star of the London Olympics, should be able to cash in for millions in the next few years.

August 07, 2012|By Diane Pucin
  • Gabrielle Douglas waves to the crowd after winning the women's all-around gymnastics gold medal last week in London.
Gabrielle Douglas waves to the crowd after winning the women's all-around… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

LONDON — There is her smile.

Gabrielle Douglas can't keep her smile away, not when she's doing a complicated sequence of leaps and somersaults on the balance beam, not when she giggles and says she'd like to get an Acura NSX Roadster — "Just like the one in 'The Avengers'" — and especially not when she's collecting something else that shines.

Those two new Olympic gold medals.

Douglas, a 16-year-old from Virginia Beach, Va., who did not come from a life of privilege but from a background in which her single mother has struggled to pay the mortgage on a condominium, will leave London not only with her medals but with the opportunity to become a millionaire. Thanks to those golds. And that smile.

Though Douglas failed to win a medal in her final event Tuesday, finishing seventh on the balance beam, she is still the first American to win team and all-around gold in the same Olympics.

"What she brings to the table is the smile and the personality," said AJ Maestas, president of Chicago-based Navigate Marketing, which specializes in research, valuation and sponsorship."If her business is well-managed and her career stays on track, she should make between $2 million and $4 million in endorsement revenue per year for the next four years."

Tayra Lagomarsino, marketing director for AEG facilities, which is co-promoting with USA Gymnastics a post-Olympics show that will have Southern California stops at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario on Sept. 9; Staples Center on Sept. 15 and Honda Center on Sept. 16, said ticket sales for the tour have gone up every day since Douglas and the U.S. team won gold last week.

"We've seen an uptick every day of competition," Lagomarsino said. "Gabby winning those golds, we're seeing her everywhere."

The tour, which starts Sept. 8 in San Jose, features Nastia Liukin, who won the 2008 Olympic all-around title. Liukin is most prominent on posters promoting the show, but now maybe new posters will need to be made.

Douglas' rise to the top has been as stunning and quick as one of her moves on the uneven bars. She didn't win her first major competition until last month, when she upset reigning world all-around champion Jordyn Wieber at the Olympic trials.

At that point, Wieber had already signed to be represented by the Wasserman Media Group. Douglas' mother, Natalie Hawkins, expressed confidence but offered no real plan when asked whether she was worried that there would be no leftovers for the newcomer.

That's no longer a concern.

Sheryl Shade, an agent who helped Shawn Johnson parlay her 2008 Olympic performance of three silver medals and a balance beam gold into a post-Olympic career that included a winning turn on "Dancing With the Stars," scooped up Douglas when she became an Olympian.

"There's no doubt Gabby has become a star," Shade said Tuesday morning. "She appeals to everyone, to the moms who take their little girls to the gym, to the little girls who want to be like her, to the African American community, everyone is relating to Gabby."

Douglas has already scored a spot on the front of boxes of Kellogg's Corn Flakes, a deal worth about $50,000 according to two marketing agents who have knowledge of the deal but aren't authorized to speak publicly about it.

She spoke with excitement about receiving Twitter shout-outs from worldwide stars such as Beyonce and Lil Wayne. "They actually know me," Douglas said, sounding unaware of how her success has resonated.

Beyonce even posted on her blog about Douglas. "WOW — what a thrill to watch you take this Gold. Thank you for inspiring all of us," the music star wrote.

Bela Karolyi, who was head of the 1996 U.S. team that won Olympic gold and who also coached Mary Lou Retton to all-around gold in 1984, said Douglas might have even more impact on the sport.

"Thousands and thousands of African American kids are going to go into gymnastics because of her, because they will want to be the new Gabby Douglas," Karolyi said. "With Mary Lou in 1984, her popularity doubled the number of gymnastics participants in this country. I expect a similar effect with Gabby. She came out of nowhere and is now an explosion. Boom."

Richard Burton, David B. Falk Professor of Sport Management at Syracuse University, agreed with Karolyi.

"I think she will be huge," Burton said, "like Mary Lou. She performed on one of the largest stages, under extreme pressure, and killed it."

Retton's agent, Michael Suttle, said the variables involved in marketing make it tough to predict success. He likes the path Douglas is on, though.

"She has all the attributes to have a wonderful run over these next few years," he said. "She has the smile, the charm and the humble personality."

Evan Morgenstein, who has represented dozens of successful Olympians, including Liukin, cautioned that managing a gymnast who continues to compete can be difficult.

"It's good on the one hand if she stays in the sport because she stays relevant," Morgenstein said. "It's not so good in the way that her time is somewhat spoken for with practice and training."

Shannon Miller, who won seven Olympic medals, including team and balance beam gold in 1996, said it's too early to predict whether Douglas will have the kind of impact Retton did.

"It's huge that she's the first American to win both team and all-around gold in the same Olympics," Miller said. "She's got that brilliant smile and peppy attitude and you see her and you just want to smile.

"Overnight, this has become a whole new world for her. It's hard to know, at such a young age, whether to go to college and get an education, but you have to also strike while you're hot. There are just so many questions."

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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