SBD/July 31, 2012/Olympics

Franklin Could Miss Out On Millions From Sponsors By Maintaining Amateur Status

U.S. swimmer Missy Franklin last night won her first Olympic Gold Medal in stunning fashion, but she will not be cashing in on it anytime soon. The 17 year old, who rallied to win the 100m backstroke, has opted to keep her amateur status. It is a decision that cost her as much as $1.5M in earnings this year, said Olympic agent Evan Morgenstein. Morgenstein, who works with swimmers like Dara Torres and Cullen Jones, said that Franklin's decision to preserve her amateur status meant she was not able to capitalize on sponsor interest in her prior to the Games. She was an Olympic medal favorite after winning five medals at last year's world championships, and deals with sponsors could have brought her, conservatively, anywhere from $750,000-1.5M this year. Franklin opted not to go pro because she wants to swim in college. The decision saved her from trying to juggle the demands of five to six sponsor appearances with her training this year. "How many of those deals is a young swimmer going to do and still be able to practice?" Morgenstein said. "It's a risk." But so is sitting out an Olympics. By contrast, Michael Phelps opted to turn pro at 16 after reaching the '00 Sydney Games at 15 years old. He reportedly earns as much as $5M a year now. The market is much different for swimmers today than it was back when Phelps turned pro. Swimwear deals tend to be a swimmer's first big endorsement and can run into the seven figures. But swimwear companies have pulled back their marketing budgets and there is less competition among the top swimwear brands -- Arena, Tyr and Speedo -- for athletes. The result is athletes are being offered smaller deals and fewer long-term agreements like the 10-year deals U.S. Olympians Ryan Lochte and Katie Hoff signed last decade. "Those don't exist anymore," Morgenstein said. So when will Franklin go pro? Morgenstein expects Franklin to swim in college for two years and go pro before or after the '14 World Championships. That would allow her to spread her sponsor commitments over two years, giving her plenty of time to adjust to the demands of sponsors. Then she has the chance to be the "it" girl of the '16 Games. "Rio's going to be big," Morgenstein said (Tripp Mickle, SportsBusiness Journal).

A MOMENT LIKE THIS: In Newark, Steve Politi writes Franklin is the "new darling of Team USA, the goofy teenager who is ready to steal these Olympics after a breakthrough gold medal last night." Politi: "Get ready, America: The London Games are about to feel a whole lot like a Justin Bieber concert, with energy and giggles and something so often missing from what is supposed to be a three-week celebration of the world’s best amateur athletes. Innocence" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 7/31). In Denver, Mark Kiszla writes, "With a victorious touch of the pool wall, Franklin morphed from a teenager hyped as the future of U.S. swimming to a bona fide Olympic legend. How quickly can a young life change forever?" (DENVER POST, 7/31). NBC News' Matt Lauer said Franklin “came to London poised to become the breakout star of these Games, the female version of Michael Phelps." Lauer: "In the 100-meter backstroke finals, she lived up to the hype” ("Today," NBC, 7/31). ESPN.com's Wayne Drehs wrote if Franklin "is to become the next big thing in swimming" and try to fill Phelps' "impossibly large shoes, Monday was one heck of a first step." But it is also "important to remember she's still just a 17-year-old high school senior-to-be" (ESPN.com, 7/30).

JUST BEING HERSELF: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Jason Gay notes Franklin has resisted going pro, and she is the "exception, not because she wanted to make some kind of grand statement about sports, but because she likes who she is right now." She has "arrived from central casting." The talent is "obvious, the smile billboard-ready, the ego humbly in check." Those tears during the medal ceremony national anthem "were real ones, her astonishment genuine" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 7/31). SPORTING NEWS' David Whitley wrote, "Just when it seemed U.S. swimming had lost its marquee value, along came Missy Franklin." NBC "thanks you for saving its day, Missy." Franklin has "already turned down nice endorsement offers." But if last night is "any indication, she could make enough to buy a college and make her own darned rules" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 7/30). A WALL STREET JOURNAL editorial states an economist "might question her judgment, but Americans will likely be encouraged that in our texting, tweeting era of instantaneity, there is still a teenager somewhere who believes in deferred gratification" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 7/31).
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