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Sports Illustrated Had To Put Kate Upton On The Cover
CNBC.com | February 14, 2012 | 10:21 AM EST

In October 2010, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit editor MJ Day had invited me to show up to a model’s body painting, even though the issue wouldn’t be out for four months. I couldn’t say anything about who she was and MJ only allowed me to tweet body parts.

But I knew this 18-year-old girl was a star. She had the personality – a childish laugh, a great sense of humor – and the non-traditional body that SI loved.

Sports Illustrated has made a name by steering away from the skinny model craze and pushing more towards women of more normal proportions.

What stood out to me? Confidence. She knew what she wanted and she was going to get it.

She told me her dream had always been to be in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and she came to IMG to represent her because she they had faith that she could crack the issue at 18, young by the issue’s standards. That she did.

And today, she’s on the cover at 19, the youngest cover model SI has had since Paulina Porizkova graced the front of the issue in 1984.

In the past, Sports Illustrated models had to pay their dues to get the cover. Only after years of appearing in the issue could they have that honor.

But Sports Illustrated, which derives 7 percent of its annual revenue from the issue, almost had to put Upton on the cover. In the year since she made her debut, her Dougie video at a Clippers game went viral and virtually everything she did from Guess modeling to a Sobe ad was shot around the Internet in minutes.

At 19, it was clear the world knew her and wanted her to see her in the starring role in American modeling. SI was going to give that to them because, at the end of the day, this is business. The truth of the matter was that if Upton didn’t get it this year, SI might have lost her forever.

She’s interested in acting and will appear in the Three Stooges remake in April. Sure, her body isn’t the shape that the European modeling scene adores, but the Internet phenomenon that she has become might actually change that.

And with the eyeballs that she commands, corporate America will surely offer her lucrative gigs beyond what she has now in Guess, Sobe and new deals with MLB2K12 and Carl’s Jr .

The good thing is that when a model hits the SI cover, it’s not the pinnacle of their modeling career anymore. Brooklyn Decker is starring in big budget movies and the upside on Upton has just begun.

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com

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