All that glitters is gold when it comes to Michel Phelps and while he may not be buying a stairway to heaven, Michael Phelps future includes millions of dollars in endorsements.
The Olympic Gods (in this case NBC) must be smiling on the Water Cube, the venue for the 2008 Beijing Summer Games swimming events. After winning his third Beijing Gold medal earlier today (Beijing time) Monday night New York time American Michael Phelps has now equaled Carl Lewis (and three other Olympians) for gold medals won in a summer Olympian. Phelps has a chance to win two gold medals tonight should be looking at Lewis in his rearview mirror by late tonight.
When the swimming competition ends Saturday evening (Sunday morning in Beijing) Phelps will likely have won eight gold medals in Beijing. And for NBC – Michael Phelps is pure ratings gold.
Money talked when it came to the scheduling of some Olympic events. The twelve hour time difference between New York and Beijing has meant most of NBC’s coverage has been shown on a tape delay basis. As far back as October 2006 the IOC knew what they had to do when it came to Phelps and the swimming events.
The IOC confirmed on October 26, 2004 that the IOC Executive Board has agreed to the competition schedule for the Beijing Games. Hein Verbruggen noted that, “After a thorough consultation process, the IOC Executive Board has approved a final version of the competition schedule which sees a spread of events throughout the day, with some finals in the morning, and some in the evening. There can never be a perfect ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution which suits each and every stakeholder equally, but the IOC decision has endeavored to find the best balance for the Olympic Movement as a whole.”
USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus made it clear when the IOC made their announcement he was fully onboard with the decision: “This is a great opportunity for our sport to be showcased to the nearly one billion people in the potential television audience of the Americas during the first nine days of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. The live prime time exposure is something that can only benefit the sport of swimming, and enhance the public profile of our sport’s top athletes.
The IOC’s decision to announce this nearly two years prior to the Olympic Games ensures a level playing field for all athletes. No matter what the schedule, our athletes will be ready to swim their best when their best is needed.”
On the eve of the Beijing Games (as Wieglus noted the dramatic changes to the Olympic schedule where announced two years ago) Australian Olympic swimming coach Alan Thompson told The Australian made it clear he wasn’t happy about the swim times in Beijing.
"My problem with the schedule change was that money bought tradition in the sport," he said.
"Whether the heats or the final are in the morning and the afternoon does not matter to us in terms of performance.
"I think in this day and age I think that loyalty is very lacking in sport and I think that often money talks too loudly.
"I just think when it comes to issues like that, there is certain traditions that need to be followed."
Those comments aside – NBC knew heading into Beijing, Phelps would be their Beijing Ticket. Among the promotional material NBC published in advance of the start of the Games -- 8 reasons to watch Michael Phelps in Beijing on August 6
NBC Sports & Olympics chairman Dick Ebersol successfully lobbied to have the start times for key events in swimming, gymnastics and beach volleyball start live in U.S. primetime, which hasn't happened since Atlanta hosted the 1996 Games.
"That's the first time that three of the five biggest sports in the Summer Olympics are essentially all happening simultaneously on American television," Ebersol told The Hollywood Reporter ten days ago.
"It's almost like divine intervention that it worked out that way," Ebersol said. "And when you add to that our women's gymnastics team is the best we've ever sent to a Games and they are rivaled by the Chinese, it's going to be a fierce fight."
Brad Adgate, head of research for New York-based ad buyer Horizon Media, told CNBC the proof will be in the gold.
"A lot of it is going to be how well the athletes perform," he said. "Michael Phelps, the gymnastics team, basketball. A lot of it is the live sports. It's really the world's greatest reality show."
Sunday nights (Monday morning in Beijing) 4x100 men’s freestyle relay may be the destined to become the definitive moment for the Beijing Games. Heading into the last 50 meters of the race (Phelps swam the first leg of the race). Phelps's leg was 47.51 seconds. On paper, that looks to be the second-slowest on the U.S. team. Garrett Weber-Gale followed with a solid 47.02, Cullen Jones struggled to a 47.65, and Jason Lezak brought it back with an astounding 46.06 to overtake Frenchman Alain Bernard, who entered the day as the world record holder in the 100 free.
NBC’s overnight ratings – stunning: NBC earned a 21.3 overnight rating, topping by 16 per cent the overnight prime time rating for Athens four years ago.
A difference between the two telecasts was, of course, that the Athens programming was taped, while NBC was live on Sunday. But it was the men’s 4x100 swimming event that not only delivered ratings but set the table for Phelps attempt to win a total of eight gold medals in Beijing. Phelps has become must-see TV for Americans – just what NBC ordered when they agreed to pay the IOC $844 million for TV rights to the Beijing Games.
"It was certainly the greatest Olympic relay race I have ever seen. I have been trying to think about another race that I got more excited about and I can't think of one." NBC swim analyst offered in a Monday morning press conference in Beijing
In a classic example of ‘seeing the bigger picture’ at least in terms of what his bosses at NBC wanted him to say, Tom Hicks who is calling the swimming events for NBC offered this gem Monday on Phelps’ place in the athletic world: “"He is right there with Tiger Woods. I called Michael Phelps 'Tiger Woods in a Speedo' the other night. There are just so many uncanny ways that Phelps reminds me of Tiger, it's just scary. They just remind me of each other so much. If Tiger is over a putt and he has to make it, I watched him at the U.S. Open and he made it. When Phelps needs to have some sort of magical touch to win a gold medal and get it done, he does the same thing. It is really kind of eerie, how much those two guys remind me of each other."
For many broadcasters the Olympics are a once in a lifetime opportunity – a broadcasters dream and Sunday evening proved to be that and a great deal more for Hicks: "That race is why we get into the business of sports broadcasting. It was just absolute excitement, shock, and the utmost of wattage. It was just so unexpected. It was so clear that Bernard was going to win this race and in those last meters, it was like a switch was flipped and all of a sudden Lezak pulled it out. I think it has been clear throughout the Games that we are certainly not rooting for the Americans. The excitement that we had was just simply about an unbelievable piece of drama in the pool."
Gaines an Olympian believes the toughest challenge Phelps faces in his quest for eight gold medals will come Friday night (Saturday morning in Beijing) when he tries to win the men’s 100 meter butterfly: "I don't want to jinx him, I just don't see the challenge out there. The 100m is such a tricky event because it is short.
“That is the one that going in six months ago, everybody said was going to be the one that was really going to be the toughest one and I still think it is going to be very difficult. By then, that will be the seventh gold medal that he would be gunning for. He might be on such a roll that he would be unstoppable, but Ian Crocker and the rest of the world has gotten real fast in that event, so it's going to be a tough one."
One athlete appears to have risen above the other 10,000 plus athletes competing Beijing – Michael Phelps. Hicks’ comparisons to Tiger Woods aside, as CNBC’s Darren Rovell noted the world can’t seem to get enough of Michael Phelps: On Friday, the day of the Opening Ceremony, Phelps reached the limit on his facebook page of 5,000 friends. More than 1,600 come from the University of Michigan, where Phelps goes to school, almost 200 come from New York and about 170 friends come from Baltimore, his hometown.
As a young teenager, Phelps trained at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, under coach Bob Bowman. At the age of 15, Phelps competed at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, becoming the youngest American male swimmer at an Olympic Games in 68 years. While he did not win a medal, he was fifth in the 200 m Butterfly. Phelps proceeded to make a name for himself in swimming shortly thereafter.
Five months after the Sydney Olympics, Phelps broke the world record in the 200 m butterfly to become, at 15 years and 9 months, the youngest man ever to set a swimming world record. He then broke his own record again at the World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan (1:54.58). At the 2002 Summer Nationals in Fort Lauderdale, Phelps also broke the world record for the 400 m individual medley and set American marks in the 100 m butterfly and the 200 m individual medley.
In 2003, Phelps broke his own world record in the 400 m individual medley (4:09.09) and in June, he broke the world record in the 200 m individual medley (1:56.04). Then on July 7, 2004, Phelps broke his own world record again in the 400 m individual medley (4:08.41) during the U.S. trials for the 2004 Summer Olympics.
In 2004, Phelps left North Baltimore Aquatic Club with Bob Bowman to train at the University of Michigan for Club Wolverine.
Phelps' dominance has brought comparisons to former swimming great Mark Spitz, who won seven gold medals in the 1972 Summer Olympics, a world record. Phelps tied Mark Spitz's record of four gold medals won in individual events. Phelps had the chance to break Spitz's record of 7 total gold medals in the 2004 Athens Olympics by competing in eight swimming events (5 of which were individual events): the 200 m freestyle, the 100 m butterfly, the 200 m butterfly, the 200 m individual medley, the 400 m individual medley, the 4x100 m freestyle relay, 4x200 m freestyle relay, and the 4x100 m medley relay.
The American 4x100 m freestyle relay team only won the bronze medal in Athens, and he personally placed for bronze in the 200 m freestyle. Thus, he fell short of Spitz's record. However, he did win eight medals in one Olympics, a feat only achieved by Alexander Dityatin, a gymnast, in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.
Had he won seven golds, he would have been eligible for a US$1 million bonus from his sponsor, Speedo. Phelps does, however, have another chance at this $1 million should he win seven or more golds at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
After the 2004 Games in Athens, Phelps participated in a 14-city post-Olympic tour with fellow Olympic teammates Crocker and Lenny Krayzelburg in an effort to raise the profile of the sport of swimming
Phelps moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan following the 2004 Olympics when his longtime coach at the North Baltimore Athletic Club, Bob Bowman, became head coach of the University of Michigan swimming team. Phelps served as a volunteer assistant coach, but did not swim for the university's team in NCAA competition because of his loss of amateur status, having accepted endorsement money from his sponsors Speedo, Visa, Omega, and PowerBar.
Instead, he trained with and competed for Club Wolverine, a USA Swimming club affiliated with the university, between 2004 and 2008. The Baltimore Sun said in August 2008 that Phelps earns $5 million annually in endorsements.
At the 2007 Worlds, Phelps won 7 gold medals, tying the record, and broke 5 world records. He co-founded the "Swim with the Stars" program, along with Ian Crocker and Lenny Krayzelburg, a program which promotes swimming and conducts camps for swimmers of all ages.
Wednesday’s Insider will look at Phelps current sponsors, what many of those sponsors did with Michael leading up to the Games and what the Michael Phelps world might look at following the Beijing Games.
For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: CNBC and Wikipedia