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Volume 21 No. 2
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Subway bets on kick from Pelé, Phelps

Subway has extended its sponsorship deal with Michael Phelps, and the record-breaking Olympic swimmer will be featured with new Subway endorser, soccer legend Pelé, in a television commercial that will debut in the U.S. soon.

Neither Subway CMO Tony Pace nor Phelps’ agent, Peter Carlisle, Octagon’s managing director of Olympics and action sports, would reveal the terms of the extension other than to say it was a multiyear deal. Phelps first became a Subway endorser in 2008, and Carlisle said the agreement to extend the deal between the brand and the swimmer was completed this fall.

New endorser Pelé (below) will appear in ads with returning pitchman Michael Phelps for a new Subway product.
Photos by: SUBWAY
Brazilian footballer Pelé, meanwhile, became a Subway endorser for the first time in July.

Pace, in an interview last week, said that a 15-second commercial featuring both Phelps and Pelé would air “in the next week or so” during a sports broadcast in the U.S., but would not provide any other details on where or when it would run. But Pace added that he could not think of another brand that used two global sports icons from different eras in the same commercial.

“Michael is one of those few guys who can be correctly characterized as the greatest of all time, and Pelé is correctly characterized as the greatest of all time,” Pace said. “So having the two of them, from the different sports, from the different time periods in which they competed, we think is a pretty powerful and almost universal message, which is positive for our brand.”

The first commercial will be used to unveil a new Subway product, Pace said. He would not disclose what the product was last week, although he dropped a hint. “Michael, in the pool, obviously, has got to have a good kick, and Pelé knows something about a good kick, too, and we relate that to a certain product we have coming out,” Pace said of the commercial.

Subway is the third major brand to renew a multiyear deal with Phelps following his retirement from swimming after the 2012 London Olympics. During four Olympics, Phelps won 18 gold medals and 22 medals overall, both of which are records. The other two major brands that extended multiyear deals since Phelps retired from competition are Visa and Omega, Carlisle said. Phelps’ other sponsors are Under Armour, Master Spas, Sol Republic, Ping and Speedo.

Many pundits predicted after the London Games that Phelps would soon fade from memory and his marketing deals would go away. “This is just proof positive that he has transcended the Olympic space and geography,” Carlisle said.

Carlisle said the Subway deal is especially good for his client, who he has represented since 2002, because Subway, which has more than 40,000 restaurants in 102 countries, activates all over the world. The association with Pelé, and with the 2016 Olympics set for Rio, only helps Phelps’ marketability, Carlisle added.

“An ad that pairs Michael with Pelé … to me that is so much more valuable than whatever cash component there is to that deal,” Carlisle said. “Because we are trying to establish a foundation in Brazil, which is not easy to do, and you take the greatest legend that country ever produced — it’s almost like you are having Pelé endorse Michael, in a way.”

Pace said he expected to use Pelé and Phelps together in advertising internationally but was mum on how Subway might use them in and around the Rio Games. Phelps has been rumored to be coming out of retirement for those Olympics.

Asked what he expected to achieve with the Pelé-Phelps campaign, Pace deadpanned, “Total brand dominance.” Then he added, “Every brand aspires to be truly differentiated and unique. That is why we try to do things of this magnitude.”