Published February 28, 2014
Jordan Malone knows the clock is ticking for him to capitalize on his medal win in Sochi.
“I am never going to be more popular than right before and right after the Olympics,” the 29-year-old short-track speedskater says. “Nothing demands attention more than an Olympic medal.”
It’s been seven days since the Texas native took home the silver in the 5,000-meter speedskating relay, and he’s hoping to use the momentum to secure endorsement deals and speaking gigs to bring in a steady income.
“We are a sport that is paid in glory, our training is so demanding that we don’t have the opportunity to work. Every moment that is spent not training goes toward cooking food, running errands and recovery -- it’s demanding.”
He trains 10 hours a day, six days a week. During the summer, he trains more outside on bikes, and winter training is exclusively in the rink. "Occasionally we have a Saturday off and we get two one week rest periods."
Malone gets $500 a month from the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and says he's lucky to get that. "They are entirely performance based, so I may get a slight increase next season but there's no guarantee." He's relied on, in most cases, complete strangers, through crowdfunding, to make ends meet. “For a time, 90% of my life funding came from individuals. I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent, buy food or equipment without the financial support of others.”
The two people that he relies on the most for support -- his mom and wife -- had their tickets to Sochi paid for through others’ generosity. “I couldn’t have imagined them not being there.”
Malone likens his sport’s popularity to a roller coaster ride that peaks every four years. “Now’s a good time for me to make the most of my win,” he says.
Olympic athletes devote so much of their time training that most can’t work full-time jobs and rely on endorsement deals and often the generosity of others for income. While some Olympic athletes end up bringing in massive paychecks (snowboarder Shaun White, who didn’t medal in Sochi, is worth a reported $40 million), that’s hardly the norm.
Malone’s agent, Doug Eldridge, managing partner of DLE Agency, explains Olympic athletes are in a unique position when it comes to capitalizing on their sport. “If a player in the NFL, NBA or PGA has a bad season or gets injured, they work during the offseason and come back. With Olympians, it’s a one-shot deal, so you better be ready.”
With traditional professional athletes, Eldridge can create an eight to 10 year on- and-off-the-field development and brand plan, a process that must be accelerated with Olympic clients.
He says these athletes have three years to get what they can from the games. “You have some momentum the year before the games, it continues to rise the year of the games, peaks during the games and then it’s a faster descendant after the games than leading up.”
Eldridge signed Malone before the 2014 Olympics, and says he was intrigued by his unique story and personality. But he admits he was a little baffled when he learned Malone was relying on crowdfunding. “I thought it was shameful that a soon-to-be two-time Olympian had to survive off donations, the cyber equivalent of a pass-the-hat campaign.”
Eldridge says Rule 40, passed by the International Olympic Committee to protect the major sponsors of the games, is undercutting the value of Olympians’ personal sponsorships. The rule prohibits athletes from promoting non-official sponsors for a set time period before and after the games.
“If athletes can't highlight their relationships with a sponsor, then bigger brands aren’t going to want to invest in them, you are cutting off the nose to spite the face. Athletes don’t have the means to fund themselves, they need these other sponsorships.”
Since signing Malone, Eldridge has worked to enhance the skater’s media presence, secure speaking engagements, increase his charitable affiliations and sign endorsement deals. “Jordan has a very sellable story and I’ve reached out to many companies that are interested in his story.”
Eldridge is taking a targeted approach with the companies he approaches.
Malone says there are numerous companies he would love to work with, and he is particularly interested in striking deals with Texas-based companies. “I flew the Texas flag at both games [Vancouver and Sochi] I am a Texas boy through and though, and I want to show people what it means to be from the great state of Texas.”
He adds a deal with an auto dealership wouldn’t be so bad, as he is currently carless. “I had an unfortunate circumstance before I left for Sochi where my car got ruined and it’s been tough to get around.”
Malone points out that companies and customers love an underdog story -- and his story fits the bill, as he calls himself the “least likely person to become an Olympian.”
Malone started his career at age 5 when a daycare center took him to a roller-skating rink. “It was a Ricky Bobby situation, I just wanted to go fast.” Malone remembers the speed of the older kids dazzled him, but it was the challenge of the sport that hooked him.
“I don’t care how athletically inclined you are, no one picks up a pair of skates and is naturally good at it, everyone falls on their asses at first.” Malone didn’t move to the ice until he was 19 -- ice skating wasn’t a common sport in Texas, where football and baseball dominate.
“I am a scrawny kid with a learning disability, nothing about that screams Olympian, but I did it.” Malone grew up in a family of two (him and his mom) and chuckles when he tells the story of his mom buying a Moped to keep up with him when he was inline skating training. “She had this old Moped and this helmet and would follow behind me, I am sure it looked goofy, and she crashed a couple of times, but she wanted to make sure I was always safe when I was training."
Skating also provided an outlet to Malone, who has ADHD and dyslexia. “I have a hard time focusing on one thing, I can’t read a book without noise-canceling headphones, but the strange thing is, when I am on the ice and there’s 12,000 fans cheering, I am laser-focused.”
Malone has earned several titles over his entire skating career, including fastest man in the world in 2003 and seven world championship medals, but there’s another title that he’s earned off the ice: entrepreneur. Not happy with the tips skaters place on their fingers to protect their hands when they put them on the ice on turns, he made his own out of carbon fiber.
“I consider myself an engineer," he says. "You aren’t an engineer because you learn to be one, you’re an engineer by the way you approach things in life. This shows my approach to skating and solving problems.”
He now supplies much of the national team with tips, at cost, and sells shin guards, helmets and tips to other skaters. He says skaters Apolo Ohno and Travis Jayneer have worn his tips.
He recently branched out to making rings out of the material, which is notoriously known to be tough to work with.
Malone isn’t sure if the 2018 Olympic games are in his future. “I know never say it’s over until it’s actually over and I am not there yet,” but he isn’t banking his entire future on his sporting career.
“I’ve learned that in this sport, it’s easy come, easy go. I’ve seen it so many times, like flashes in the pan; they come in and are great, but they leave just as quickly as they came.”
He is currently applying to schools to get his masters in electrical engineering.
“One of the biggest challenges most athletes have is finding a life after sports, but I have found something that I am just as passionate about, and that is very rare.”