SBD/Issue 49/Sponsorships, Advertising & Marketing

Michael Phelps Signs Exclusive Fast-Food Contract With Subway

Phelps Joins Fellow Athletes As Subway Endorser
Subway and U.S. Gold Medal-winning swimmer Michael Phelps have signed a long-term marketing partnership. Phelps joins boxer Laila Ali, Saints RB Reggie Bush, Phillies 1B Ryan Howard, figure skater Kimmie Meissner, Spurs G Tony Parker and Fox' Michael Strahan as Subway endorsers (Subway). Subway "plans to unveil its first commercial featuring Phelps early next year" (Baltimore SUN, 11/21). AD AGE's Emily Bryson York wrote the deal, which locks Phelps into an "exclusive fast-food contract, is surprising because the swimmer openly campaigned for a relationship with McDonald's" during the Beijing Games. The new campaign "will highlight Subway as a destination for indulgent meals, such as a meatball sub, as well as healthy choices, such as grilled chicken on wheat" (, 11/20). Phelps notably during his appearance on "SNL" earlier this year was in a skit "with longtime Subway spokesman Jared Fogle spoofing Phelps' famed 12,000 calorie diet" (AP, 11/20).

LOOKING LONG TERM: Following the Beijing Games, a host of QSRs put forward endorsement proposals for Phelps, including KFC, Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Subway and others. Phelps ultimately signed with Subway because its long-term proposal extended through London 2012, and its structure and worldwide operations made it more appealing to work with in the eyes of Phelps’ agent, Octagon’s Peter Carlisle. Carlisle: “He loves Big Macs, but he also loves Subway. He loves pizza. He loves it all. There were a number of brands that made sense because he enjoys their product. At the end of the day, you evaluate them for different criteria and one distinguish itself. We can do a program easily and predictably with Subway globally and that was the difference” (Tripp Mickle, SportsBusiness Journal).

WHEN IS ENOUGH ENOUGH? In addition to Subway, Phelps has endorsement deals Speedo, Visa, Omega, PowerBar, Hilton, Kellogg's, PureSport, AT&T and Rosetta Stone. He also appeared in a recent commercial for Activision's "Guitar Hero III" videogame with Lakers G Kobe Bryant, Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez and skateboarder Tony Hawk (THE DAILY). wrote, "When is too many sponsorships bad for the brand that is Michael Phelps? Perhaps, Octagon, the agency that markets Phelps to the public, needs to take a step back and consider" (, 11/20).

RINGING ENDORSEMENTS? In Toronto, Alison Korn writes Canadian Olympians who won medals in Beijing "haven't received the kind of endorsements their predecessors have, and many athletes who hope to get to Vancouver 2010 also are at risk of being left out in the cold." Toronto-based Landmark Sport Group President reps speedskater Cindy Klassen, hockey player Jayna Hefford and curler Ross Howard, all of whom have won Gold Medals in past Games, but "only Klassen, Canada's most decorated Olympian with six medals, is truly cashing in." Klassen currently is "featured in a Sony advertisement, and has a new McDonald's ad in the works" (TORONTO SUN, 11/21).

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