Speedo makes splash with Phelps

Sources: Deal through '08 richest in company history

Swimming

November 06, 2003|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

Speedo will announce today that it has reworked its contract with Michael Phelps, and that the world's hottest swimmer will be the company's lead endorser through the 2008 Olympics.

Sources in the industry said that the multimillion-dollar deal is the richest in Speedo history, and that it could be the most lucrative swimsuit endorsement contract ever.

Phelps could not be reached for comment last night.

The 18-year-old from Rodgers Forge and the North Baltimore Aquatic Club is coming off a summer that experts proclaimed the best non-Olympic year by a swimmer. That led Speedo to renegotiate the contract it initially signed him to in October 2001, when he became the youngest American male swimmer to go pro.

Phelps, who is represented by the Octagon marketing agency, will depart for New Zealand and Australia a week from today.

NBAC coach Bob Bowman had previously said that Phelps will do some product research and development in New Zealand, at a university flume that is the "world's most accurate." There, Speedo will measure Phelps' specifications for a line of bodysuits that it will introduce next summer, when he could be one of the most visible athletes at the Athens Olympics.

From New Zealand, Phelps will travel to Australia for the Qantas Skins in Sydney on Nov. 26, and then for the FINA World Cup in Melbourne Nov. 28-30.

His new Speedo contract creates the prospect of more globe-trotting after next summer's Olympics, as Phelps could be the headliner in a post-Athens tour. It would be similar to the ones undertaken by Olympic gold medalists in figure skating and gymnastics but groundbreaking for swimming.

Phelps' rising profile in the sport also would be used to market Speedo products at least through the 2008 Olympics, which will be held in Beijing, in the burgeoning China market.

Thus far this year, he has set eight world records in four different individual events. At July's world championships in Barcelona, Spain, Phelps became the first swimmer to establish five world records in one meet, and the first man to set world records in two different events in the same day.

That range has him touted as maybe the best bet ever to approach the record seven Olympic gold medals won by American swimmer Mark Spitz in 1972. In his old Speedo contract, Phelps would have had to match Spitz's Olympic accomplishment to earn $1 million over the life of that three-year-plus deal.

Phelps is fastest ever in the 200-meter butterfly, the 200 individual medley and the 400 IM; No. 2 all time in the 100 butterfly; No. 2 in the world this year in the 200 backstroke; and the American record-holder in the 200 and 400 freestyles. That covers seven of the 13 individual Olympic events.

The recent Towson High graduate deferred his entrance to Loyola College to concentrate on his training, and like his previous Speedo contract, the new one will pay for his college education. In addition, Speedo also has created enhancements for Bowman, who was on the company's advisory coaching board before he began working with Phelps in 1997.

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