SBJ/May 5-11, 2014/Olympics

Agencies dive in, eye big prize in Franklin

Four-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin turned down millions before the London Games to maintain her college eligibility, but the University of California swimmer’s parents have begun meeting with agents in preparation for her to turn pro next year.

Franklin’s parents already have met with CAA, IMG, Octagon and The Legacy Agency, sources said.

Sources said Missy Franklin’s parents have met with agencies as the gold medalist prepares to turn pro next year.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES

“From the time Missy announced that she would be swimming in college, we’ve been extremely transparent about her plan to compete at the collegiate level for two years,” her father, Dick Franklin, said in a statement. He did not elaborate further on the agency search or their plans going forward other than to reiterate that Franklin would remain an amateur until her sophomore season ends at Cal.

Franklin, who turns 19 this week, is the biggest Olympic athlete to turn pro since Michael Phelps in 2001. She won five medals at the London Games and endeared herself to Olympic viewers with her upbeat personality, expansive smile and girl-next-door humility, which came through in interviews during the Games as she expressed genuine disbelief in her own achievements.

At the press conference after winning her first gold medal, Franklin giggled as she held it up for reporters. “Isn’t it pretty?” she said.

“Missy’s not only an amazing swimmer, she’s a quality individual, and it comes through in the way she speaks,” Speedo USA President Jim Gerson said. “She’s very approachable and very engaging. She’s going to do great things for the sport.”

It’s unclear what Franklin stands to make in annual endorsements. Her decision not to turn pro before the 2012 Olympics cost her an estimated $1.5 million that year alone, according to Evan Morgenstein, an Olympic agent who in 2012 represented swimmers Dara Torres, Cullen Jones and others.

After winning four gold medals in London, she is expected to make considerably more from endorsements and appearance fees. Top Olympians typically earn more than $5 million annually, and elite Olympians can earn much more than that. Phelps, who is represented by Octagon, is expected to make more than $100 million over his lifetime.

Agencies typically make 20 percent off athlete endorsements, and Franklin is expected to be one of the most appealing Olympians for endorsements ahead of the 2016 Rio Games. Phelps himself said during the London Games that Franklin was the “new face” of American swimming, and NBC is expected to make her one of the focal points of its coverage leading up to and during the Rio Games.

That, combined with the fact that she has yet to do any endorsements, makes her the most sought after Olympian for agencies in more than a decade.

“There’s no doubt she will be one of the most marketable athletes because she’s already proven herself,” said Courtney Nally, a senior vice president at Ketchum Sports who helps Olympic sponsors like Liberty Mutual select a roster of Olympic athletes. “She was the golden girl of the London Olympics and every brand wanted to tell her story but didn’t have a chance to, so that’s why she’s poised for greatness heading into Rio.”

According to The Marketing Arm’s Celebrity DBI, an index ranking celebrity appeal and awareness, roughly 27 percent of U.S. consumers recognize Franklin, making her about as well-known nationally as Urban Meyer, Michael Wilbon, Kevin Love and John Calipari.

The Franklins began meeting with agencies late last year. The candidates include CAA, which represents Olympians Shaun White and Ryan Lochte; IMG, which represents Lindsey Vonn; Octagon, which represents Phelps and Natalie Coughlin; and The Legacy Agency, which represents Lolo Jones and Kerri Walsh. It’s unclear whether there are any other agencies in the running.

Franklin’s family is expected to make the decision this year and formally announce it after her sophomore season ends, or after the NCAA Championships set for March 19-21, 2015.

Her mother, D.A., is a physician and her father, Dick, has considerable sports business experience from his years as a corporate executive at Head and Reebok. They are both expected to stay involved in her representation after an agency is chosen.

“I think they’ll put together an unbelievable team, the best lawyers, the best in public relations, the best in representation,” said Morgenstein, who has spoken with the Franklins but isn’t vying to represent her. “The model that exists now for most athletes, I can’t see flying with her dad. He’s going to look for an agency that shows up with a bunch of people who work on the business and work with him. He’ll be the point guard.”

Morgenstein expects her to land with an agency that can help her gain endorsements, develop a cause-related initiative and possibly pursue media opportunities like TV appearances or a reality TV show. Along with being a media darling during the London Games, Franklin already has appeared on an episode of the ABC Family show “Pretty Little Liars” in March 2013 while still in high school.

“She needs an approach that’s not sports specific,” Morgenstein said. “If you want longevity, [media appearances and causes are] what you have to do.”


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