Olympic swimmer and gold medal winner Missy Franklin made news with the announcement that she will be retaining her amateur status for the next four years. As such, she "stands to lose millions in endorsement deals," reports Forbes.
But a comparison of Franklins' earning potential to that of Michael Phelps underscores the pervasive underrepresentation of female athletes in advertising. Not a single female athlete appeared on the 2011 Sports Illustrated list of the 50 highest-earning U.S. athletes, a fact that's highlighted in a forthcoming study in the Journal of Brand Management. A Turner report found that, of the sports figures featured as endorsers on 11.9 percent of television commercials, only 3 percent are women.
For an endorser to be successful—according to a well-established branding model— he or she must follow the pillars of "Familiarity, Likability, and Similarity." Researchers John Antil and Matthew Robinson, who conducted a series of focus groups on the topic, found that female athletes are lacking in all three.
The familiarity part is obvious: the Olympics, for the two short weeks when they take over the news cycle, are an exception to the otherwise general U.S. disinterest in female athletics. But Antil and Robinson suggest that it's also the way female athletes are portrayed in the endorsements they do get—with the focus on their youthful, toned bodies -- that alienates them from female consumers, contributing to their general lack of marketability.