In the first few days of the 2012 London Olympic Games, U.S. swimmer Missy Franklin has emerged as the fresh new face of her sport.
The 17 year old, who won Olympic Gold in the 100m backstroke and also captured a Bronze in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay, is now swimming in the fast lane toward endorsement riches.
There’s just one thing holding her back: the senior-to-be at Regis Jesuit High School in Colorado wants to remain an amateur, preferring to go on to college and compete in the NCAA.
The decision to remain an amateur means Franklin is leaving money on the table. A lot of money depending on who you ask. Bob Dorfman, executive creative director of Baker Street Advertising, telling the USA Today that Franklin would be looking at a seven-figure salary, if not a couple million dollars.
Another expert throwing out a big number is Evan Morgenstein, an agent who has represented dozens of U.S. Olympic athletes like 2008 Women’s Gymnastics Gold Medal winner Nastia Liuken and swimmers Dara Torres and Janet Evans.
Morgenstein says depending on the economic environment, Franklin could be looking at payout with a bottom range of around $700,000 and as high as $2 million. Despite passing up a decent sized payday, Morgenstein thinks Franklin should follow her instinct and go to college if that’s what she wants to do.
"The money will be there in four years" Morgenstein says. "In my experience, most of the corporations will come after her about 12 to 18 months before the next Olympics. Rio is in 2016 so it would be sometime after her sophomore year (of college). I think they'd come after her with a vengeance to sign her up for Rio."
The reality is the post-Olympic endorsement window for athletes is short. In the weeks if not days after the Olympic torch is extinguished U.S. sports fans will turn their attention back to the pennant races in Major League Baseball or the start of the NFL season.
The result of the short attention span by sports fans? All the attention and money for today’s Olympic medallists now comes in the in the period leading up to the next Olympic games, not immediately following the London Games. While Franklin will be heavily sought after in the lead up to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, she may not even have to wait that long to cash in if she doesn’t want to.
“Going into the World Championships in 2014, she’s going to be the best swimmer on the planet and that’s going to create a new set of financial opportunities for her” Morgenstein continued. “At that point it makes more sense because she has a few years to work on her corporate responsibility and her corporate etiquette.”
Those corporate demands are year round duties required of a highly compensated sponsored athlete. Two years in college will allow Franklin to focus solely on her swimming and avoid the distractions of corporate appearances, motivational speeches and a demanding travel that could take a costly toll for collection all those endorsement riches.
But Morgenstein believes companies will be willing to invest in Franklin for the long-term, with deals in the four year range and some as long as eight years. Given her youth and the likelihood that she will be able to stay healthy as a swimmer, the possibility exists that Franklin could swim in multiple Olympic games.
But with big-time money comes big-time expectations.
“People are paying you to perform now, they’re not paying you for what you did in the past” Morgenstein cautions. “They are paying you for what you can do going forward and how you’ll represent their brand. That’s a pressure very few people ever understand in their lives.”
Adding to the pressure, the impending departurefrom the swimming scene of Michael Phelps. The most decorated Olympian in history says he will retire after the London games, creating a marketing vacuum that sponsors and media will desperately want to fill. But the thought of swimming in the wake of Phelps is a daunting one.
“It’s not fair to her if the conversation turns into ‘can she be the female Phelps?’ Does Missy Franklin really want to be compared to him?” Morgenstein says. “ It’s just too much pressure, especially for someone her age. She didn’t ask for it.”
While the comparison to Phelps may be unfair, it might also be inevitable.
“The sport (of swimming) has done very well, the Olympics has done very, very well and NBC has made money off the Michael Phelps effect” Morgenstein continued. “So don’t think for second that there isn’t exterior pressure to try and make her the next Michael Phelps now that Phelps is retiring.”
Follow Tom Rotunno on Twitter @tomrotunno.