Today, an interesting e-mail came across our desks here at SwimSwam. It was from a PR firm representing online pawn broker Pawngo.com, which bills itself as the world’s first “full-service online pawn shop in the US.” We thought their offer must be a joke, but we called the PR firm, and the offer is 100% legitmate.
The news they had to share was a program they’ve begun which offers 0%, interest-free loans to Olympic athletes on their medals and other Olympic memorabilia.
This a brilliant move for the company, but at the same time depressing that there’s such an obvious market there.
For Pawngo, the decision makes sense. Olympic memorabilia usually is quite valuable, highly prized, and extremely rare to come onto the market.
The alternative is what this says about the average, modern-day Olympic athlete. Outside of the Ryan Lochtes and Michael Phelps‘ of the world, many Olympic athletes struggle. Scott Weltz, for example, said when asked that at times, he could barely afford to eat prior to making the Olympic Team.
More often then not, Olympic medals are sold for a cause. Case in point: Anthony Ervin selling his 2000 50 gold (tie with GHJ) to raise money for the victims of the catastrophic 2004 tsunami. Also, there are many cases where Olympians give their medals to their coaches or mentors who helped them alone the way. Rowdy Gaines gave Richard Quick one of his 1984 golds. Mel Stewart gave his 200 fly gold to his mentor who pay for his prep school education at Mercersburg Academy, a notable swimming power in the late 1980s.
But at the same time, this is more a demonstration that Olympic medals mean more to everyone else than they do to the athletes themselves. As has come up already this week, when discussing the true value of an Olympic medal, for athletes it’s as much about the journey as anything else. Imagine if you’re a member of a World Record breaking relay, but you’re not THE member of the relay, and it comes midway between Olympic payoffs and you’re struggling to afford all of the services required to maintain the life of an elite athlete. Or maybe you are injured, and your sponsors leave you. It makes sense that an athlete might consider pawning some Olympic gear to make ends meet..
In that situation, the option of pawning might be attractive.
There’s a clear need for restructuring of the Olympic business model. The solution is not a simple one – “athletes work hard and they deserve to be paid a lot for it” won’t solve any problems – but if Olympic athletes are enough of a market for a pawn broker to specifically try and attract them, there is a problem.