Team USA to Join Simone Biles Tour, With One Exception—Suni Lee

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The most decorated gymnast of all time, Simone Biles, is staging her own post-Tokyo tour, an endeavor usually presented by USA Gymnastics, and she’s taking most of her Olympic teammates with her, with one notable exception: Sunisa Lee.

Biles will headline the Gold Over America Tour, a not-so-subtle GOAT reference, without Team USA’s newest star next to her. Instead of tumbling in arenas across the country and wowing crowds with her talent on the uneven bars, Lee, the women’s all-around champion, will be a freshman on the campus of Auburn University. She’ll compete for the Tigers collegiately—and will still be able to capitalize on her newfound fame thanks to the NCAA’s name, image and likeness (NIL) rule changes.

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Biles’ tour management declined to comment on its financial arrangement with the participating athletes, which may have been a lucrative opportunity for Lee. Even without the platform of Biles’ tour, marketers predict Lee is in line for more than a million dollars in endorsement and sponsorship deals while she’s at Auburn in light of her Tokyo success.

The rest of her teammates will join Biles as she embarks on a 35-stop North American tour throughout the fall. Jade Carey, who won gold in floor exercise; MyKayla Skinner, the vault silver medalist; as well as Jordan Chiles and Grace McCallum, both of whom won silver in the team competition, will all participate, the tour said. Carey, Chiles and McCallum are also technically incoming freshmen at UCLA, Oregon State and Utah, respectively, though it is unclear how the tour will impact their fall college semesters. They do, however, now have the opportunity to make money on tour this fall and defer enrollment without losing their eligibility.

Together, the group will perform at arenas including Los Angeles’ Staples Center, Denver’s Ball Arena, Minneapolis’ Target Center, Washington’s Capital One Arena, Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and Boston’s TD Garden, the final stop on the tour, all of which hold around 20,000 fans.

“Having all of these elite gymnasts from Tokyo join the Gold Over America Tour is a treat for the fans,” tour producer Lee Marshall wrote in an email. “This will be the only opportunity to see these outstanding athletes perform together after winning so many medals this summer.”

As previously announced, Biles will also be joined by Laurie Hernandez, who won two medals in Rio in 2016, and elite gymnasts Katelyn Ohashi (who went viral while competing at UCLA), Morgan Hurd and Peng-Peng Lee.

While there is consensus among marketers that Lee would have undoubtedly given the tour a lift (and it, in turn, would have helped keep Lee in the spotlight), Biles is still a draw despite her unexpected Olympics.

“Most people are just going to see great gymnastics and great athletes,” Rick Burton, Syracuse University professor and former chief marketing officer of the USOPC, said in an interview. “So as long as [Biles] is there, the tour does fine. But if she were to say that she still has the twisties and is not going to be doing the things that made her famous and make her Simone, the promoters have to at least recognize that that’s a new variable.”

Each gymnast will perform some of their “most famous routines” at each tour stop, organizers said. Career highlights, personal videos and social media interactions will be mixed in to create an almost concert-like event.

Biles’ representatives did not respond to a request for comment on whether their superstar plans to perform her full array of moves, but as long as she’s there, marketers expect her tour to perform well from a ticketing and revenues perspective. Larry Taman, managing partner at Brand Positioning Doctors, said Biles has built a brand strong enough to attract fans regardless of her actual performance.

“Even if she did the ‘basic’ routine that she did on the beam that won her the bronze medal, people would still want to see her in person,” Taman said. “I don’t think it really matters what she does. Now, I don’t think that people would pay to not see her at all. If people pay to see Simone, they want to see her perform. As long as they see that, even if it is the more stripped-down version … the tour will be fine.”

Burton did note that the addition of someone like Lee could have added tremendous marketing value—turning the event from a “kind of Simone farewell tour” into “partially a Suni anointment or welcome tour, because she’s your new star.” That could have been “a big part of the promotion angle.”

Instead, the tour has returned to its initial theme of empowerment, with Biles taking control of the showcase event from USA Gymnastics, just as the governing body tries to rehabilitate its brand and rebuild trust with athletes in the wake of the decades-long Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal. With financial support from Biles’ new sponsor Athleta, which will serve as the tour’s presenter, and from gymnastics apparel maker GK Elite, among others, the tour will run entirely independent of USA Gymnastics.

Taman did note that the spreading Delta variant and recent COVID case spikes could impact the number of people who purchase tour tickets, but if the pandemic weren’t an issue anymore, he predicted Biles would be “selling out these arenas easily. She [can] really resonate and emotionally connect with people that much more because of all that she’s been through and how open and authentic she’s been about it,” he said.