Lindsey Vonn, who won gold in 2010 for the U.S. Olympic team, has dropped out of the 2014 Olympics in Sochi due to an injury to her right knee. While Vonn's decision to take some time off leaves an open space for another athlete to join the team, it also poses a challenge for NBC and other advertisers who cast Vonn as the face of the American team.
But while NBC can't bank on Vonn's star power as a competitor now, they could try and work her into the broadcast as a commentator. NBC Sports Chariman Mark Lazarus told Bloomberg that “if she wanted to have that discussion, we would welcome that discussion.”
The president of NBC Olympics, Gary Zenkel, told reporters:
Stars exist, but stars are more often made and born during the course of an Olympic Games. It’s really not an issue for us. Look, Lindsey gives you great promotional value, and she’s an amazing athlete and an amazing story. But there are amazing athletes that are going to be in Sochi, many of which we know, some of which we haven’t identified yet.
In addition to being part of NBC's campaign, Vonn also had endorsement deals from companies like Procter & Gamble, Under Armour, Red Bull, and Rolex. P&G featured Vonn prominently in their "Thank you, Moms" campaign; her ad already has nearly 1.6 million views.
Though as NPR points out, the other companies might actual benefit from Vonn's absence. Companies that are not official Olympics sponsors are prevented from running ads featuring athletes during the games. Now, brands like Under Armour can run their campaigns throughout February, though they might want to change that line about "[making] Lindsey's comeback a reality."
With Vonn out, the only other athlete with comparable power is snowboarder Shaun White, though many are already looking at 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin, the current slalom world champion, as Vonn's successor.