One on One with Brett Heyl
At first glance, Olympic slalom kayaker Brett Heyl, 26, and badminton don’t have much in common. Yet, both Heyl and Olympic badminton hopeful Howard Bach, as well as athletes from other sports with low media profiles (fencing, anyone?), now share the common denominator of starring in a series of ads for Bank of America. The promotion includes online spots and posters in bank branches.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Heyl has the likes of baseball, football, cycling and track—and all their problems—to thank for the endorsement. With so many bigger sports beset by scandal, the purity of smaller sports played a big role in the bank’s choices, says BOA spokesman Joseph Goode. According to reporter Adam Thompson’s story, six or seven athletes from lesser-known sports costs the same as one marquee athlete, likening BOA’s tactic to a “mutual fund strategy.”
For his part, Heyl, who is hoping for the U.S.’s lone whitewater kayaking spot in Beijing, is simply glad to have his first real commercial endorsement, which also helped him land a later deal from Nike. Paddling Life caught up with Heyl—this year’s Pan-American champion and 2004 Olympic veteran from Athens–for his thoughts on Beijing
PL: What do you have to do to compete in Beijing?
Heyl: Next spring we’ll have the US Olympic Team Trials in Charlotte, NC. I need to make the national team there (top 3) and then about a month later, I need to race well and be the top American at a World Cup in Augsburg, Germany.
PL: Does the Beijing course favor your style?
Heyl: If I make it to the Olympics the course there is perfect for me. At the Pre-Olympics this past summer, I was top 4 in 3 out of 4 runs. It’s big whitewater that lets me use my technique to my advantage, and takes away some of the advantage the stronger guys have on me on easier courses.
PL: How do you feel the U.S. team is positioned headed into the Games?
Heyl: Whichever men’s kayak goes will be a serious medal threat. Scott Parsons had a great year and there are a few other guys who are gnawing at the bit for their shot.
PL: What’s it feel like to be backed by a bank?
Heyl: Bank of America’s sponsorship has given me the opportunity to compete at the highest levels. Their support has allowed me to train better and focus entirely on Beijing. Also, there aren’t many corporate sponsors who give consideration to niche sports like kayaking. But Bank of America recognizes that every U.S. Olympic athlete has a story to tell, and provides financial and marketing support to help athletes raise their profile and the profile of their sport.
PL: What all does it entail on your end?
Heyl: I serve as an ambassador for the bank, helping them promote their Olympic products and programs. I also make myself available for associate and client programs. An important reason why I have such a great relationship with them is our shared connection to Charlotte, N.C., my home base for training and the bank’s corporate headquarters. I think it’s nice for them to finally have a Hometown Hopeful of their very own. One of the great values that Olympic Athletes have is their journey. It’s taken me a long time to realize that what I consider a “usual month” is far from usual.
The best way I can explain it is this: If I end up on the podium in Beijing, there will be hundreds of people who have played a role in getting me there. All those people will know my story. They will have had lunch with me, helped me raise money to cover my travel, seen me at my highs and lows, and most importantly they will have played a crucial role in helping me realize my dreams. My dreams become their goals.
PL: Are you doing your banking now there as well?
Heyl: Yes, but I was a Bank of America customer before my relationship with them. Their branches across the USA and relationships with other banks internationally fit my wild travel schedule.
PL: How did this help you land a deal with Nike, and what all does that entail?
Heyl: Well, I can’t speak for Nike, but I doubt that it hurt. Having a corporation like Bank of America put their stamp of approval on you means a lot. Most companies see paddlers as a risky investment, but if Bank of America signs off on you, you must be pretty valuable. Being a Nike athlete is every young athlete’s dream. All I can say is that it was worth the wait… Nike hooks me up.
PL: How does it feel to be sponsored alongside someone who plays badminton?
Heyl: One of the things that I’ve learned in my career is that an athlete is an athlete. Elite athletes are all very much the same, but the ones who make it to the top have also found the sport in which they can best excel. While I consider myself a good athlete, and a successful kayaker, had I pursued a career in football, I’d have been a miserable failure. I don’t see any difference between being a top kayaker, basketball player, baseball player, badminton or ping-pong player. To take that further I see little difference being a top athlete and being a successful lawyer or doctor. Being the best at what you do is a universal achievement.