Dick's offers Olympic athletes jobs in sponsorship deal

Teresa F. Lindeman
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pittsburgh — – Dick's Sporting Goods just gained access to a new pool of potential employees — a bunch of busy people who need lots of time off but know a lot about swimming, running, even shot put.

The retailer with more than 600 stores across the country announced recently that it has worked out a deal with the U.S. Olympic Committee to serve as the first official sporting goods retail sponsor to the USOC and Team USA for the 2016 summer games in Brazil. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

Though most official sponsors for next year's games were signed up years ago, the USOC liked Dick's pitch to give jobs to athletes.

"It's expensive to be a skier," noted Lisa Baird, the USOC's chief marketing officer, who was in Findlay for the announcement.

Baird was just using skiers as an example, but the truth is that it costs a lot of money to train for sports at the Olympic level and to travel to competitions. And all that travel and training time can make holding down a job challenging.

The partnership also calls for Dick's to donate sports equipment to the U.S. Olympic Training Centers. The company plans to offer sponsorships and sports equipment to several Team USA athletes competing in the Olympics and Paralympics.

In return, Dick's gets the right to use the Olympic rings in its marketing — something that companies like Coke, Visa and McDonald's have used to good effect over the years.

And, if the so-called "store ambassador program" that brings athletes into stores works as expected, Dick's also will get some ground-level cool as top-level athletes work with customers and talk passionately about archery or the high jump.

A hint of that came at Tuesday's press conference hosted by Summer Sanders, who won gold, silver and bronze medals in swimming events at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain.

"As an Olympian and a mom of two kids, I can say most every Olympic dream begins in a sporting goods store," said Sanders, as she launched a panel discussion.

In addition to Baird and Hobart, the panel included Lex Gillette, a Paralympics athlete who holds the world record in the long jump, and Kerri Walsh Jennings, who has three gold medals in volleyball and wants another one.

Jennings already had her Olympic game face on. After Gillette talked about the amazing feeling of coming into a stadium and hearing tens of thousands of people cheering, Jennings shared her vision for Rio.

"I see it all being very golden. I don't talk about bronze. I don't talk about silver. I will not sign with a silver Sharpie," she said, grinning broadly.

The games are more than a year away, but recruiting for jobs at Dick's began Tuesday in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where the USOC is headquartered and a number of training operations for different sports are based.

Participating athletes will be identified in some way when they're working for Dick's. Lauren Hobart, the retailer's senior vice president and chief marketing officer, said the assignments will fit the athletes' sports.

"We would want them to be leveraging their core expertise," she said.

Dick's promises its managers will be flexible when writing up the athletes' schedules.

The pay structure wasn't announced, but Home Depot had a program for years that paid Olympic athletes full-time wages for part-time work.

In 2006, the home improvement retailer said 33 of its employees had qualified to compete in the winter games in Torino, Italy. At the time, more than 200 Olympic and Paralympic athletes and hopefuls were employed in Home Depot stores.

In 2009, Home Depot ended the program to cut costs.