Posted by Abe Sauer on February 20, 2013 10:29 AM
When Gold Medal skier Lindsey Vonn's uplifting Facebook post from rehab carried the Instagram/Twitter hashtag #givesyouwings, it was just the latest example of how injury has become another opportunity for athlete spokespeople to service their brands.
Vonn posted the positive message alongside a picture of herself working out her abs as she is recovering from knee surgery after a brutal injury. The picture included her Red Bull water bottle. (She later tweeted a graphic picture of her post-op knee).
Yes, Red Bull is a Lindsey Vonn sponsor, but the fact that the four-time World Cup champion might not strap on skis for another six to eight months isn't stopping her endorsement duties. In fact, as many brands are learning, there may be as much to gain from a sponsor's thrill of victory as there is from his or her agony of defeat.
On its Vonn microsite, Red Bull wished its star "a speedy recovery." Genuine, for sure, but in the meantime, Red Bull will sop up the goodwill associated with Vonn's struggle to come back. Her #givesyouwings Facebook post has been liked over 40,660 times and lists over 1,620 comments. Red Bull mentions have also been worked into the blog that Vonn's sister Laura is publishing about her sister's crash and road to recovery.
Vonn's sponsor's ability to turn lemons into a syrupy energy drink is becoming more common. Recently, Sports Business Daily reported on the case of snowboarder Kevin Pearce's career ending injury and the decision by sponsors like Nike, Amp and Oakley to stick with the X Games star. Burton even created a "Ride for Kevin" campaign around the incident.
Sports Biz Daily also highlighted the case of skater John Cardiel, who has received continued corporate support after breaking his back. Ultimately, the reasoning is not surprising. Dump an injured athlete and risk becoming a jerk brand (after all, nobody likes a fairweather brand). But there's more; the positive vibes associated with the monumental task of an athletic comeback are, in some ways, as inspiring as anything the athlete could accomplish at full strength.
The trend is global, too. As we reported last summer, Nike immediately switched to using comeback messaging—"Who dares start all over again in one's prime, despite the pain…"—for Gold Medal Team China hurdler Liu Xiang, after the star popped his hamstring before the first jump in London.
After suffering a torn ACL, NBA star Derrick "D" Rose teamed up with his sponsor Adidas for the 2012 web series "The Return of D Rose." In a series of six episodes, the documentary follows Derrick Rose—twitter tag #TheReturn—as he struggles with physical therapy and the mental reconditioning needed to re-enter the NBA at his previous superstar level. The series has logged millions of views.