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Stephen Colbert endorsement has fast effect on U.S. Speedskating coffers

November 10, 2009 |  4:13 pm

The deal all but fell into U.S. Speedskating's lap.

And it quickly has made the sport's athletes feel more confident they won't be lapped by the competition in this Olympic year for financial reasons.

I'm talking about the fundraising arrangement between the Colbert Report and the speedskating federation, making the Colbert Nation the official sponsor of U.S. Speedskating.

It was announced Nov. 2 on the show, barely a week after the U.S. media -- me among them -- reported that the collapse of Dutch bank DSB had left a $300,000 hole in the federation's budget with the 2010 Winter Olympics on the horizon.  (The deficit actually was bigger, as DSB's contract gave U.S. Speedskating $350,000 in cash, of which $50,000 went directly to athletes and $300,000 to federation programs.)

Host Stephen Colbert told viewers to send donations to U.S. Speedskating through www.colbertnation.com. He promoted the effort again last Thursday with an appearance by 2006 Olympic speedskating champion Joey Cheek, who played along with a Colbert riff about lambasting Canada for its decision to limit U.S. athletes' training time on the 2010 Vancouver oval.  The segment (below) ended with cheers of "U-Ice-A!''

The Colbert Report Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
On Notice/Dead to Me - Canadian Iceholes
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor U.S. Speedskating

Monday night, Colbert announced on the show that $202,000 had been raised in the first week.

"We are exuberant,'' said Bob Crowley, the executive director of U.S. Speedskating.  "The skaters are really pumped.''

Crowley first heard from the Colbert people Oct. 27.  The next day, he was on a teleconference with Colbert. Sunday, Nov. 1, when he was at a World Series game in his native Philadelphia, Crowley got a call saying the Colbert Report wanted him on the Nov. 2 show. He was joined by 1994 Olympic speedskating champion Dan Jansen, who had run the New York Marathon the day before.

"We signed the deal that night,'' Crowley said.

Since then, Crowley said the link to Colbert has prompted interest from several other potential sponsors.

"Most of them want something we don't own -- mentions on the show,'' Crowley said.  "But we have some other leads as well because of our partnership with the Colbert Nation.''

Nearly all the athletes began wearing skin suits with the Colbert Nation logo at last weekend's short- and long-track World Cup meets. Olympic champions Shani Davis and Apolo Anton Ohno, the leading U.S. long- and short-track skaters, respectively, so far have chosen not to wear the logo.  Some skaters are wearing a mix of old warmup gear with the DSB logo and new racing gear with the Colbert Nation logo.

"It's not an issue for us,'' Crowley said of Davis and Ohno's non-participation.  "Anyone who has not signed our athlete agreement (which provides some funding in return for endorsing federation sponsors) is under no obligation. We are talking to Shani and Apolo about it, but our main focus is supporting their efforts to do the best they can this season.''

Davis, who had a personal endorsement deal with DSB end two years ago, is off to a fast start.

At the U.S. trials for the World Cup team in Milwaukee two weeks ago, the Chicagoan told reporters he was faster and stronger than ever before at this point in the season.

At the opening World Cup meet in Berlin last weekend, Davis set track records in winning the 1,000 and 1,500 meters.

But Davis didn't get a mention in the segment on Monday's Colbert report about World Cup successes (see below) because he wasn't wearing the logo.

Reutter2 The props went to Colbert Nation citizens Tucker Fredricks, who won a 500-meter rave in Berlin, and Katherine Reutter of Champaign (left), who won the 1,500 at the short-track meet in Montreal.

Maybe that will convince Davis to buy into what could be a significant endorsement for Olympic sports.

Olympic leaders lately have noted  difficulty in attracting younger audiences.

Comedy Central's "Colbert Report" reaches just that demographic.  And it looks as if the host is going to play this for all it's worth leading up to the Vancouver Olympics. It already is worth plenty to U.S. Speedskating.

The Colbert Report Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
U.S. Speedskating Team Takes Gold
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor U.S. Speedskating

-- Philip Hersh

Photo: Katherine Reutter. Credit: David Boily / Getty Images

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