Michael Phelps retired from international sports competition after bringing his career Olympic medal count to 22 at the 2012 London Olympic Games. His second career as a sports ambassador and product spokesperson is gilding his gold medal image and rewarding sports sponsors for support of major sports events. Phelps’ personal appearance at the 2013 World Aquatic Championships in Barcelona on July 28 was an excellent example of how a substantive program with personal contact to hundreds of fans can draw a large audience and create memories that last a lifetime.
Speedo pleased many fans by expanding its “Meet Michael Phelps” contest to all entrants. The grand prize winner got an hour with Michael Phelps and 500 Euros to spend at the Speedo Barcelona 2013 store. But the other contestants were also invited to join in for a reception line. They also received souvenir autographed photos and Speedo insignia bathing caps.
Phelps dedicated an hour and a half to meet with these fans permanently – and it meant a lot to them. Fabien Mund, one of 430 youths participating in a summer camp program at Barcelona 2013, said afterwards, “we have to be happy that he will do this.” His fellow camper and Phelps fan Indre Stuhmer observed “Athletes can bring people from different nations together. Phelps is a good example.” Local visitors from Spain noted that Phelps does not speak Spanish, but it does not matter to them. His enthusiasm for the sport of swimming speaks for itself.
Phelps spoke to the entire audience at Barcelona 2013 following his event at the Speedo Store. He reached out to hosts and fans from the area with pleasant memories of his breakthrough performance of setting two world records in one day. That was in Barcelona ten years ago when the city hosted the World Aquatic Championships in 2003. “Just walking into the pool brought back many memories. This is where the ball started rolling,” Phelps reminded fans. Barcelona paid tribute to Phelps’ ties to the city with a new mosaic of photos of Phelps swimming triumphs.
Michael Phelps marketing success was much more subtle, but the kind of success sports sponsors will want to pay careful attention to. Phelps did more than just wear a teal blue Speedo polo shirt – he gave his outfit a tough workout. He posed for hundreds of photos with fans, stepped onto the stage for his talk and the unveiling of the new mosaic and showed how the polo shirt keeps on looking fresh and athletic through a demanding schedule. His Omega watch was so distinctive you just had to notice it. The result gave sponsors more than an endorsement. It also gave them a highly successful product demonstration with excellent credibility.