Beijing Olympics

Michael Phelps, Lily Donaldson, Michael Phelps father
Greg Baker/AP

Michael Phelps Inspires Media Pheeding Phrenzy

August 20, 2008 05:08 PM
by Anne Szustek
The swimming phenom’s eight Beijing golds and seven world records have ensconced him in sports almanacs. But his publicity has also left him prone to gossip mill grinding.

Phelps Coverage Reaches Crescendo

As American swimmer Michael Phelps closed in on his unprecedented eight gold medals in Beijing, the only sight more common than Phelps breaking a world record or participating in one of his 17 swimming heats was a news story about some aspect of Phelps’s life outside the pool.
Having already done the requisite Michael Phelps bios, the media turned next to such important matters as his diet, his musical tastes, his newfound market value, and his love life. Phelps was suddenly everywhere—even in adjective form, as “Phelpsian” has quickly become the superlative of choice.

The glut of media coverage of every aspect of Phelps’s life has even led to a new phenomenon: Phelps fatigue.

By now we’ve all heard about how Phelps, a 2003 graduate of suburban Baltimore’s Towson High School, was teased by his classmates as a child for his lisp and protruding ears. But his victories have given those “ugly duckling” profiles some new swagger on Phelps’s behalf. British paper The Daily Telegraph, for one, muses, “How many of Baltimore’s moronic tendency … would trade their uneventful, know-nothing lives for his? Show us your medals, baby.”

And he is. In a shoot reminiscent of the 1972 Mark Spitz poster featuring the swimmer wearing his seven Olympic gold medals, a star-spangled Speedo and a smile, the August 25 Sports Illustrated cover features a bare-chested Michael Phelps with his gold medals fanned across his torso.

Opinion & Analysis: How much is Phelps worth?

With eight gold medals behind him, much of the Phelps talk has focused on the potential endorsement deals that could follow and how much they might be worth.

Sports Illustrated appears to be just the start of the champion swimmer’s new side job as poster boy. Cereal maker Kellogg’s announced on Tuesday its line of Michael Phelps Frosted Flakes and Corn Flakes boxes, due to be released in mid-September.

Prior to the 2008 Beijing Games, Phelps was already earning some $3 million to $5 million a year from endorsements, including corporate partnerships with PowerBar, Speedo, Visa, AT&T and Swiss watch brand Omega. After Phelps broke Spitz’s record for number of swimming gold medals in one Olympics, Speedo awarded the 23-year-old star another $1 million.

If the estimates of Phelps’ long-time agent Peter Carlisle prove correct, however, that could be pocket change to the swimmer. Carlisle told The Wall Street Journal that he thinks Phelps’ eight Beijing gold medals, won during American TV prime time, are worth some “$100 million over the course of his lifetime” in marketing deals.

Paul Swangard, the managing director of the University of Oregon’s Warsaw Sports Marketing Center, cautioned against equating Phelps’s power in the pool with potential power on Madison Avenue. “It’s an aggressive number put out there by an aggressive agent,” he said in the Journal. “But also eight gold medals was an aggressive number. Not a good idea to bet against the man right now.”

Howard Bloom, an instructor of sports management at Canada’s Algonquin College, believes that Nike should place a big bet on Phelps, who could be worth “$40 or $50 million” to the company. “He could literally allow them to launch a massive swimwear company, and I think you are going to see an incredible bidding war for him,” Bloom told the Wall Street Journal.

See CBS News coverage

Related Topic: How to “be like Mike” (or just date him)

At least for the moment, Phelps has something in common with his childhood inspiration and top-earning athletic endorser, Michael Jordan:everyone wants to “be like Mike.” 
During his historic gold medal run last week, as if no other athlete had ever listened to music to focus before competition, bloggers and broadcasters alike pondered what Phelps has on his iPod

The Today Show was one of many media outlets that asked Phelps what music inspires him. His response: “What did I have on today? I think I had Lil Wayne, ‘I’m Me.’” Hartford Courant TV critic Roger Catlin took the conversation further, and developed a Young Jeezy 2008 Olympics playlist based on the fact that Phelps listened to the rap artist during the 2007 World Championships in Melbourne, Australia.

If fans don’t share Phelps’ love of rap, they can engorge themselves on his 12,000-calorie-a-day diet—or just on reading about it, as it seemed to be the Phelps story du jour late last week. Some news organizations reported that he eats merely 8,000-10,000 calories a day. University of Pittsburgh sports nutritionist Leslie Bonci doubts the swimmer socks away even that much. She says on WebMD, “To consume 10,000 calories a day, he would need to be eating all day long,” estimating his daily caloric intake to be somewhere around 6,000.

Another Phelps statistic numbers well into the thousands: his number of fans on social networking site Facebook was some 795,000 as of 1:00 p.m. EDT Tuesday. By 8:00 p.m. the same day, that number stood at 1,136,218. Among them were girls who, rather than wanting to be like Mike, simply want him, judging from their posted messages.

They stand to be disappointed if the latest rumors hold water. As common with the trappings of celebrity status, Phelps has already been linked romantically to fellow elite American swimmer Amanda Beard as well as to British Burberry model Lily Donaldson.

“Though Phelps could very well be seeing both ladies, we kind of hope the Donaldson rumor is true,” writes New York Magazine fashion blog The Cut. “If she made him a part of the fashion scene and we saw him sitting front row at Fashion Week or at a party on the Gramercy Hotel rooftop or something, we’d just die.”

But in a paean to the swimmer’s geek roots, The Cut continues, “You know he’d be Mr. Awkward McBawkward in those settings.”

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