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Rovell: 10 U.S. Olympians primed to cash in

It has been another successful Summer Olympics for Team USA, which handily leads the medal standings. Now come the interesting questions for corporate America. Will Michael Phelps, who has a new family, be motivated to cash in? Which company will win the Simone Biles sweepstakes? Will Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel and Sydney McLaughlin be lured from school for a financial windfall? Here are my rankings of the endorsement prospects for U.S. Olympic standouts:

1. Michael Phelps, swimmer

Although he might be retired, he firmly established himself as the greatest Olympian of all time. Phelps, who has 23 Olympic gold medals, doesn't love making speeches, long the bread and butter of Olympic champions. But he can clean up for years at corporate events. Under Armour couldn't go all out with its marketing of Phelps during the Games, but it will be interesting to see how big they can grow him. Something to watch might be his swimwear partner, Aqua Sphere, trying to grow the "MP" logo and signing swimmers to deals to compete against Speedo and Arena.

2. Simone Biles, gymnast

Simone Biles won five medals, four of them gold, in Rio. Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The most golden gymnast in a single Olympics with four golds, Biles has a chance to make a mint. Expect her representatives at Octagon, which also represents Phelps, to sign four-year deals that will take her beyond the 2020 Games in Tokyo. Companies have been leery about throwing too much future cash at American gymnastics stars because there's always someone new four years later, but Biles' dominance in Rio will help alleviate that. Don't expect Procter & Gamble, Hershey's or Nike to give up what they already bought in Biles, who has 2.4 million Instagram followers, either.

3. Katie Ledecky, swimmer

Phelps or no Phelps, Ledecky is the most dominant swimmer in the world. She is going to Stanford, which means she can't take any endorsement deals immediately, but perhaps the lesson of Missy Franklin will make Ledecky a free agent sooner. Franklin was a swimming star of the 2012 Games but didn't take money after it so she could swim at Cal. In Rio, she failed to even make an individual final. Ledecky might swim one year at Stanford before turning pro. The swimsuit battle for Ledecky will be the most hotly contested marketing war for a woman that the market has seen.

4. Simone Manuel, swimmer

Simone Manuel was a relative unknown before Rio. Rob Schumacher-USA Today Sports

A company landing the other "Simone" is hardly a consolation prize. The first African-American swimmer to win an individual gold medal (in 50-meter freestyle) also attends Stanford, but there's a possibility, like with Ledecky, that she'll quickly move to the pro ranks. Manuel already gave a fun and free post-Olympics endorsement when she returned home and plugged Shipley Do-Nuts on social media.

5. Aly Raisman, gymnast

Captain of the gold medal-winning "Fierce Five" in 2012 and "Final Five" in Rio, Raisman will get deals for her strong past (she earned four individual event medals at the two Games) and will have a nice speaking career if she wants. Because of her age, 22, she will likely lose out on some endorsements to younger teammates Madison Kocian and Laurie Hernandez.

6. Ashton Eaton, track and field

Ashton Eaton already knows how lucrative being the Olympic decathlon champion can be. Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

Eaton capitalized on his first gold in the decathlon in London and was prominently featured by Nike and United leading up to and throughout the Rio Games. While the title of "world's best athlete" is his again, it's really the world's fastest man (100 meters) who draws most of the marketing dollars. But, out of any U.S. Olympian, he is the most impressive in person and will get significant dollars if he chooses to go for a third gold in the decathlon in 2020.

7. Sydney McLaughlin, track and field

Continuing the theme of companies not being able to get what they want, McLaughlin — who just turned 17 — likely won't turn pro until she finishes high school next year. But with Allyson Felix closing out her career and no one else really emerging on the track the way the U.S. swimmers have, McLaughlin is good investment. In Rio, she made it to the semis in the 400-meter hurdles.

8. Ryan Murphy, swimmer

Ryan Murphy, right, is no Michael Phelps, center, but he's got the brightest future of any other U.S. men's swimmer. EPA photo

There are plenty of young American female swimmers. Not so much on the men's team. Nathan Adrian is 27, and fellow medalist Anthony Ervin is 35. Ryan Lochte, after his bizarre non-robbery scandal, isn't getting any new endorsements anytime soon, even if he comes back for 2020. That leaves us with the 21-year-old Murphy, who destroyed his competition on his way to winning gold in the 100- and 200-meter backstrokes.

9. Danell Leyva, gymnast

Leyva, who won the bronze in the all-around in London, took home two individual silvers in Rio. He's 24, which means he could be back in 2020. The Cuban native is bilingual, a major plus for brands.

10. Lilly King, swimmer

Lilly King made a splash at Rio in and out of the pool by beating and criticizing Yulia Efimova. Clive Rose/Getty Images

King was upstaged by Ledecky and Manuel, but her bold stance against her main competitor, Russian Yulia Efimova, in the 100-meter breaststroke did two things: It reminded of the old Cold War sports battles, and it was one of the boldest statements an active athlete had ever made about a competitor who had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Efimova tested positive in 2013 and was suspended from the sport. King's stance and victory over Efimova, combined with her sense of nationalism, made her stand out and boosted her Twitter following tenfold in a matter of weeks. King swims at Indiana and, unlike Ledecky and Manuel, the money she might be able to earn in endorsements doesn't figure to make leaving college an absolute no-brainer.


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