"Gold medalist Hughes lands deal for new Wheaties box"
Gold medalist Hughes lands deal for new Wheaties box Jay Weiner Star Tribune Published Feb 26, 2002 SALT LAKE CITY -- The packaging of Sarah Hughes began Monday when she landed on a Wheaties box. In her first product endorsement since her gold medal victory Thursday at the Winter Olympics, figure skater Hughes, 16, signed with General Mills to be the Golden Valley-based company's sole Salt Lake Games celebrity on the cereal box. "This is over the top," Hughes said as she unveiled a life-size copy of the box with an image of her skating. "This is nothing you can train for." As it turns out, Hughes, of Great Neck, N.Y., is a serious collector of Wheaties boxes that highlight sports legends. Her father, John Hughes, a prominent New York lawyer, negotiated Sarah Hughes on Wheaties box the deal with Wheaties and said it was another in a series of dreams come true for his daughter, a high school junior. "She won the gold medal, met [the musical group] 'N Sync and now she's on the Wheaties box," he said. "They're all dream of hers, and I'm not sure in which order." Obviously thrilled by the unveiling, Hughes posed Vanna White-like, with her hands neatly holding the top of the giant box image. "Awesome," she said. A General Mills spokesman declined to say how many boxes will be made available nationwide beginning in early March. Neither John Hughes nor General Mills disclosed the terms of the deal, but, generally, a Wheaties box is not considered a major cash deal for an athlete. Industry sources said it's probably less than $25,000. But it's a prestigious image deal and "a wholesome brand," John Hughes said. Before the Olympics, the Wheaties brand group put together a list of potential box candidates. The Hughes family was contacted in January. She won Thursday night. The deal was struck by Sunday. Sarah Hughes becomes the first woman on a stand-alone post-Olympics Wheaties box since 1984 gymnastics gold medalist Mary Lou Retton. Since then, Wheaties has either issued a collection of boxes featuring a handful of individuals or placed a team on boxes; in 1998 the gold-medal women's hockey team got the honor. On Monday, on the day after the Winter Games closed, Retton was on hand to unveil the Hughes box and said to Hughes, "I am pleased to pass on the title as 'America's sweetheart.' " Hughes was born a year after Retton won at the Los Angeles Summer Games. Hughes is not expected to go the route of 1998 gold medalist Tara Lipinski, who had an agent before she even arrived at the Nagano Olympics and quickly took the money and skated out of competition and into lucrative skating shows. Published reports say Lipinski has made more than $1 million per year in endorsements after her Nagano victory; she takes in additional money skating with touring shows. "I'm more concerned about getting her through her 17th, 18th and 19th years" than cashing in on the all the opportunities that might be presented to her, John Hughes said. "She's not searching for the money, but Wheaties is just one you do." General Mills is in a ticklish situation when it comes to Olympics-linked projects. Competitor Kellogg's owns the rights to be the official breakfast cereal of the U.S. Olympic team through the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics. To avoid charges of ambush marketing by the U.S. Olympic Committee, Wheaties' announcement had to be made after the Winter Games ended. The Olympic rings aren't allowed on the box. The images of Hughes can't be from her Olympic performances. The words on the trademark orange box read simply: "Sarah Hughes, figure skater." General Mills shares closed Monday at $47.53, up 26 cents. -- Jay Weiner is at email@example.com .