Phelps dives into his greener world

$1M bonus for seven golds among Speedo incentives


November 07, 2003|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

Michael Phelps had a light practice with the North Baltimore Aquatic Club yesterday afternoon, but it was still a full day for the world's hottest swimmer.

There was the final fitting for the tuxedo he will pack for his coming trip to Australia, where he'll compete in two meets and be a guest at that nation's annual swimmer of the year awards.

There was also a chauffeured ride to the nation's capital and a later stop at the Inner Harbor, where he discussed his celebrity on CNN World Report and ESPNEWS, respectively.

Phelps hopes to bring more attention to the insular world of swimming, and the 18-year-old from Rodgers Forge talked up the most lucrative endorsement deal in the 75-year history of Speedo, the world's top-selling swimwear brand.

An endorser of Speedo since October 2001, Phelps is now under contract with the company through 2009. He will earn a $1 million bonus if he can duplicate the biggest gold medal haul in the history of the Olympics.

Before that and other performance-based prizes are weighed, the new deal more than triples the annual base salary he is paid by the company, which will focus its international marketing on Phelps.

He could be featured in a post-Athens tour and be rewarded for expanding his already intimidating repertoire, but Speedo most trumpeted the $1 million bonus it will pay Phelps if he wins seven gold medals next summer in Athens, Greece, or in Beijing in 2008, which would duplicate a feat achieved only by Mark Spitz in 1972.

"It's a big incentive," Phelps said. "In addition to the whole Spitz thing, there's the million dollars out there now. That's just going to make me work harder."

Under his old agreement with Speedo, his base salary was approximately $100,000. Under the new agreement, his annual base compensation could grow over the length of the deal from approximately $350,000 to approximately $500,000.

There are other unique aspects to the contract. After a historic world championship meet in July, Phelps ranks among the top three in the world in seven of the 13 individual Olympic events.

He can't tackle them all next summer, but as he branches out to other events after Athens, he would be financially rewarded for his world records as long as they remained on the books.

"That's something we have never done before," said Stu Isaac, a senior vice president for Speedo. "That could make Michael more enthusiastic about his career and make him an even greater swimmer."

After the Olympics, Phelps has committed to competing in the 2004 world short-course championships, which will be held next October in a temporary pool in Indianapolis' Conseco Fieldhouse. That meet could serve as a focal point for a post-Athens world tour that would feature Phelps.

"As a company, we've done a spotty job of maximizing the impact of our athletes after the Olympics," Isaac said. "That's something we haven't done well, and neither has USA Swimming. We're talking with them about how we can keep the athletes in the public eye."

Peter Carlisle, the director of Olympic sports for Octagon, the agency that represents Phelps, was asked if any other swimwear companies had attempted to win his endorsement.

"I would think that any suit company would be interested in Michael, but Speedo is the most deeply involved in the sport and has the most invested in the athletes," Carlisle said.

Phelps' versatility opens the possibility that he could attempt to become the first swimmer to win five individual gold medals at the Olympics, in the 100- and 200-meter butterflys, the 200 and 400 individual medleys and the 200 backstroke.

Such an unprecedented feat, however, wouldn't carry the same bonus as matching Spitz, who won his seven gold medals in four individual events and three relays.

"Bob [Bowman, his coach] and I do know what I'm swimming," Phelps said, when asked what events he would enter at next July's U.S. Olympic trials. "We're going to enter every single event that I have made the [qualifying] cut in. Obviously, we're going to play some games."

Phelps has a television in his 2000 Cadillac Escalade, but would like another. His financial worth might not approach that of some team athletes in America's more visible pro sports, but he is already one of the richest swimmers ever.

"Swimming and basketball are on two different levels," Phelps said, "but once you reach a certain point as a swimmer, you will be rewarded. The more you do, the more you'll get."

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