Michael Phelps – the billion dollar brawn

From Barry Newcombe, SJA Chairman
Beijing, Friday:
The cash registers are already ringing for the sensation of these Olympics, perhaps all Olympics, to finish his Beijing business. “He’s a billion dollar man, he won’t have to get a job ever,” celebrity agent Max Markson said to Reuters of Michael Phelps.

And that before the American swimmer clocked up his sixth gold medal and sixth world record of these Games this morning, making it 12 career Olympic golds, for Phelps, pictured right, to be called by US news outlets “the winningest” sportsman of all-time.

Marksen puts it a little more elegantly. “He’s the greatest Olympian in the world and he’ll be able to earn money everywhere as he’s an international brand.”

Insiders reckon Phelps will not catch up with Tiger Woods, who is set to be the first sportsman billionaire, by 2010.

“In the heat and intensity of this event, it may seem that his earning power is limitless but you have to pull back and look at someone like Tiger Woods who has performed at a top level for years and years in front of the world,” said brand strategist Eli Portnoy. “The Olympics is held only once every four years. After a year or so the Americans forget about the Olympics and move to stars they see more. Kids want someone else on their Weetabix box.

“In the short-term he is a gold mine because he represents everything that is pure, young, strong and visionary about America. We haven’t had anyone of this significance since Mark Spitz. Guaranteed there will be marketeers wanting a piece of him that makes no sense and it will be interesting to see how his handlers cope with this and if they get greedy because the Olympics has a narrow avenue of marketability.”

â–¡ NBC, the television rights holders in the United States, is expecting record viewing figures for Phelps’s next two races, the 100m butterfly tomorrow and the 4x100m medley relay on Sunday, according to a report on

The interest in Phelps’ quest is already leading to strong interest in the US and NBC has sold an extra $10 million in advertising since the start of the Games. That is on top of an already record-breaking $1 billion in revenues that NBC secured before the Games began.

Seth Winter, the senior vice-president of sales and marketing at NBC Sports & Olympics, said: “The Olympics have completely captivated the American public and further ignited our sales efforts.

“Americans are consuming our Olympic coverage in record numbers and in every way.”

NBC had persuaded Beijing organisers and the International Olympic Committee to switch the swimming schedule for these Games so the finals were held in the morning in China so they would be broadcast during prime-time in the US.

â–¡ A nice tribute from a sportswriter to a sports photographer: “It is a little known fact of journalism, at least among writers, that the most important thing if you want your story to be read, is a good picture.” Click here for more by Barnes on Aspland.

â–¡ SMOG BLOG: Blue skies 3, Smog 10. Glorious bright day today, just on cue for the first competition in the Bird’s Nest.

â–¡ Here’s a line from Paul Hayward in the Daily Mail looking forward to this weekend’s action:

The Australian wit who accused us of excelling only in Olympic sports that involve “sitting down” we can now respond: “Pull up a chair, mate, and look at Britain’s gold medal prospects this weekend.”

Hayward reckons Britain could win anything up to nine golds over the course of the coming weekend. Click here to read Philip Barker’s account of the last time the British gorged themselves on Olympic gold in such a manner.

â–¡ Roger Federer‘s Olympic singles campaign is over, contributing to an ever declining record of achievement to be set against the times when he simply ruled the world of tennis.

Federer came with the Swiss team to Beijing hoping, at last, in his third Games, to nail down an Olympic gold medal to stand alongside his Grand Slam record in tennis, headed by his five Wimbledon titles.

But it all ended in defeat last night against the American James Blake (pictured below), one match short of the medal round. Federer, who carried the Swiss flag at the opening ceremony a week ago, now faces the loss of his world No1 ranking to Rafael Nadal on Monday, as he plays the Olympic doubles before he heads into the final Grand Slam tournament of the year, the US Open, which starts in New York on Sunday week.

Nadal has demonstrated this year that he more than has Federer’s number. The two key wins by the Spaniard were in the French and Wimbledon finals – contrasting showdowns because Federer was humbled in Paris but fully contributed to a Wimbledon final where he came from two sets down to push Nadal to a fifth set.

Nadal and Federer will be seeded 1 and 2 in New York, and anywhere else they play for a while. No one can yet challenge their
right to be in the two top places except, in the longer term, Novak Djokovic of Serbia.

There are two obvious targets for Federer to chase. The first is the US Open where he defends the title which Nadal has never won. The second is the Masters in Shanghai in November, which he also defends.

There are times in all sports when the top competitor has to make way for a challenger. Maybe it has already happened in tennis. Maybe Federer will find a way back. In the Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe rivalry, for example, Borg quit the tour when he could see what McEnroe was likely to do to him.

Federer is not yet at that point. But the shadows are beckoning.

Click here to read: Journalists get shake down from Beijing police and hotels

Click here to read: Murrays bow out of Beijing in all-too-quick time

Click here to read: Pooley shows she is no lightweight in medal stakes

Click here to read previous blog entries from Barry Newcombe in Beijing

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