SBD/Issue 98/Sponsorships, Advertising & Marketing

Subway Stands By Phelps, But May Suspend Planned Ad Efforts

Though Disappointed In Behavior,
Subway Maintains Phelps' Sponsorship
Subway has decided to maintain its sponsorship of U.S. Gold Medal-winning swimmer Michael Phelps after the public release of a photo of him smoking from a bong, but the QSR is "likely to backburner its first TV campaign" starring Phelps, according to Emily Bryson York of AD AGE. Subway in a statement said, "Like most Americans, and like Michael Phelps himself, we were disappointed in his behavior. Also like most Americans, we accept his apology. Moving forward, he remains in our plans." Execs indicated that the campaign, "originally slated for early 2009, will be delayed." However, a Subway spokesperson said, "Our statement says nothing about creative and to our knowledge (SubwayFreshBuzz) has not changed." Bryson York noted that Subway on Friday removed Phelps from its SubwayFreshBuzz Web site, and now just lists Saints RB Reggie Bush, Phillies 1B Ryan Howard and Rams DE Chris Long as "Fresh Celebrities" (ADAGE.com, 2/6).

MIX UP IN REPORTS: ESPN's "SportsCenter" led off its 6:00pm ET Friday episode by citing a BuzzNewsroom.com report that Subway "is preparing to drop Phelps and his sponsorship deal." ESPN's Brian Kenny reported Subway "said it is not commenting or releasing a statement regarding Phelps, but the web report says executives want to be rid of the embarrassment.” Approximately 75 minutes into the broadcast, Kenny updated the Subway report, saying, "Subway has not dropped Michael Phelps and his endorsement deal, as a Web site reported earlier” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 2/6).

DON'T BE LIKE MIKE: USA Swimming Exec Dir Chuck Wielgus said that the NGB did not believe Phelps' three-month suspension "set a precedent for other athletes who could, in theory, be suspended without testing positive for drugs." Wielgus: "We viewed this as an extraordinary circumstance, and we do not see this as a precedent for other swimming athletes who might exhibit bad judgment. ... We simply felt that it was important to send a message that we thought to be in the best interest of Michael, USA Swimming, the Olympic Movement and the sport" (Baltimore SUN, 2/7). But ESPN.com's J.A. Adande said, "It’s really more symbolic than anything because this thing did create a media firestorm, (and) USA Swimming feels like they have to react somehow" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 2/6). ESPN's Pat Forde said USA Swimming "felt like they had to do something to register their disapproval" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 2/6). ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser: “It’s totally symbolic and I think it’s the right way to go because of the way he’d been Godded up” ("PTI," ESPN, 2/6). CNBC’s Darren Rovell called the suspension "crazy" and said, "Do you think anyone in the NFL or (MLB), with the unions, would be able to get suspended for behavior based on a photo? That’s crazy, that sets a horrible precedent” (ESPN.com, 2/9).

Phelps' Participation In The '12 London
Games Has Millions At Stake For NBC
2012: A PHELPS ODYSSEY? In Baltimore, Kevin Van Valkenburg wrote Phelps' decision on whether to participate in the '12 London Games will have "millions of dollars at stake." U.S. Olympic TV rights holder NBC "would be nervous if it thought Phelps might choose to hang up his goggles and retire." Phelps has "turned into such a cash cow" for NBC parent company GE that the net acquired the broadcast rights to the FINA World Championships in Rome in July, "making it the first time that swimming event will be televised." Van Valkenburg wrote while the "mantra of the Olympics is that the uniqueness of the event transcends the individual," it is possible the Olympics have "never had a star quite as big as Phelps." Broadcaster Jim Lampley said, "Michael was one of the most guaranteed important stories heading into Beijing. If he's out, it removes a huge, central, compelling story. Would something replace it? I don't know" (Baltimore SUN, 2/8).

SETTING THE BAR TOO HIGH: In Baltimore, Peter Schmuck wrote if you are "going to create an image that a celebrity is going to have to inhabit for the rest of his career and maybe the rest of his life, you've got to be sure that the celebrity in question is both willing and capable of pulling that off." Phelps "obviously is neither, though that doesn't make him a bad fellow," but rather "badly mismanaged." Phelps is the "rare athlete able to elicit this level of shock and disenchantment from one photograph of him doing what countless college students in countless frat houses do every weekend night all over America." Phelps was "presented to the public and corporate America as a squeaky-clean paragon of virtue who would never, ever do such a tawdry thing as act like an actual 23-year-old." Schmuck wrote if Phelps' representation at Octagon "had it to do over again, I'm pretty sure it would still have sold Phelps to Speedo and Omega, but not to a company that makes sugary cereal for kids" (Baltimore SUN, 2/7). In Chicago, Rick Morrissey wrote one can "understand why Phelps might crave some modicum of normalcy." Univ. of Colorado at Colorado Springs professor emeritus Jay Coakley: "I would say there was a desperate desire on his part to get out of this tunnel in which he has been living" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/8).

Phelps' Maintained Support From
Sponsors Surprises Some
TARNISHED IMAGE: The GLOBE & MAIL's Tabatha Southey wrote the fact that Phelps' sponsors "signed these contracts before the recession and they are mostly standing by them amazes me" (GLOBE & MAIL, 2/7). In Salt Lake City, Lya Wodraska wrote, "We'll have to see just how much Phelps loses on his now-well publicized drag, but suffice it to say, his image as a golden boy is tarnished again" (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, 2/8). In Chicago, Bob Verdi wrote even if Phelps were to "jump into the pool tomorrow with NBC's logo in the corner of your TV, he would be tarnished forever because ... he is not perfect" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/8). In N.Y., Mike Vaccaro wrote Phelps had "every right to make as many commercials as he wanted to," but he "knew what the unwritten contract with the rest of us was, and he what the unspoken law was." There is "no need to shed tears for him." Phelps "knew that in 2009, you had better make sure whatever you do, do it in private, away from cell phones and hidden microphones and anything else" (N.Y. POST, 2/8).

HE'S NOT PERFECT, SO WHAT? In Houston, Richard Justice wrote, "I don't understand why we have to make these people objects, how we have to forget that, at the end of the day, he's still like the rest of us in most ways." Who did the sponsors "think they were signing in the first place?" Did they "understand he's young, that he's not perfect, that he's as flawed as the rest of us?" (CHRON.com, 2/6). In Hartford, Jeff Jacobs wrote, "We're all screw-ups in some way. I'd hire Phelps any day of the week before I hired the opportunistic scumbag who used a camera phone to snap his picture and then sold it to a British tabloid" (HARTFORD COURANT, 2/8). In Oakland, Monte Poole wrote part of Phelps' "appeal, we reasoned, stemmed from him being a regular kid, an everyman who happens to swim like a shark" (OAKLAND TRIBUNE, 2/8).

Andy Samberg Appears As Spitz On "SNL"
LATE NIGHT LAUGHS: CBS’ Kelly Cobiella: “Since his record eight Gold Medal wins last summer, Phelps has been awash in endorsements and adoration. But this week, America’s sports hero became a late-night punchline” (“Evening News,” CBS, 2/6). NBC's "SNL" devoted two segments of its "Weekend Update" to Phelps. In one, cast member Andy Samberg appeared as Olympic Gold Medalist Mark Spitz to comment on the situation. When cast member Seth Meyers addressed Samberg as “Mr. Spitz,” he replied, “Please Seth, Mr. Spitz is my father’s name. Call me seven-time Olympic Gold Medalist Mark Spitz." Samberg suggested the IOC take two Gold Medals away to punish Phelps so Spitz could retain his record of seven golds in one Olympics. Samberg: “Well, I deserve it! You know it was much harder in my day. Our idea of an energy drink was a Tab and vodka. I used to swim on a full stomach of Hostess Snowballs and fondue.” Later, Meyers aired his regular skit called “Really!?! With Seth.” The segment featured Meyers talking about Kellogg dropping Phelps as an endorser. Meyers: “Really Kellogg? Marijuana’s not consistent with your image because I thought it was totally consistent. You know, every one of your mascots is a wild-eyed cartoon character with uncontrollable munchies" ("SNL," NBC, 2/7). NBC’s Jay Leno said, “More bad news for Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps: He has been dropped by Kellogg's over this marijuana incident. See, this is like bad business, Kellogg's dropping him. Isn't this the same company that makes Pop-Tarts and chocolate chip cookies? Isn't there some kind of cross-promotion?" ("The Tonight Show," NBC, 2/6). ABC's Jimmy Kimmel: "I understand why they did it, but Kellogg’s may want to be more careful. The Stoners of America eat a lot of Fruit Loops. Fortunately for Michael, with the loss of Kellogg’s came a new endorsement deal with Visine" ("Jimmy Kimmel Live," ABC, 2/6).

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