As soon as Laurie Hernandez won the silver medal on the balance beam on Monday (Aug. 15), her agent’s phone started ringing. Marketers were eager to hear more about the US gymnast, who had just won her first individual title in the Rio games—and her second overall. She beat out her all-star teammate Simone Biles for the achievement on the beam.
“I probably heard from 10 major, Fortune 100 companies as soon as she did it,” said her agent, Sheryl Shade of Shade Global. “They were paying attention.”
Shade said she has been flooded with marketer and press inquiries about Hernandez ever since the 16-year-old gymnast made her Olympic debut during the women’s gymnastics trials last month. Shortly after, Shade announced that Hernandez was going professional and committing to gymnastics through 2020, and the inquiries kept coming.
Hernandez is a serious competitor, but it’s her charisma and team spirit that fans love. The New Jersey native warmly embraced competitor Sanne Wevers from the Netherlands, who outscored Hernandez on the balance beam, after she took the silver. And she’s shown nothing but love for her teammates, who she has also been competing against for individual medals throughout the competition.
Consumer brands including beauty lines, sportswear companies, and packaged-food brands are lining up to work with Hernandez, according to Shade, who plans to announce a few of Hernandez’s endorsement deals in the coming weeks. The gymnast, who is second-generation Puerto Rican, also has a strong following with Hispanic-Americans and families, Shade said.
It’s hard to believe that Hernandez, who has chronicled her Olympic experience on social media and affectionately become known as “the human emoji” for her animated facial expressions, has been holding much back during the games. But Shade said Hernandez has been cautious about revealing too much of herself while representing Team USA in Rio. Being in the spotlight is still new for the first-time Olympian.
“You’ve seen a little bit of her personality,” said Shade. “You’re going to see a lot more soon.”
The reality of being an Olympic athlete is not as lucrative as one might suppose. Some US Olympians earn less than $15,000 annually. And they’re taxed on their winnings, including the gold, silver, and bronze hardware they take home.
That puts more pressure on athletes to pounce on endorsement opportunities that pop up around the Olympic games.
Shade’s strategy, not unlike that for other breakout Olympic stars, is to keep Hernandez in the public eye through the end of the year by taking advantage of the TV, press, and marketing opportunities that come in. Next year, Hernandez hopes to qualify for the world gymnastics championships. In 2020, she hopes to earn another spot on the US Olympic team.
At the same time, Shade wants to make sure that Hernandez, who is homeschooled and starts her junior year of high school in the fall, has a chance to enjoy herself after months of vigorous training.
“After a big Olympics like this, for any athlete, those first few months you’ve got to let them put their hair down a bit and enjoy all that’s out there,” said Shade.