Can Michael Phelps turn swimming into a bigger sport with more traction than just the past week at the Olympics? Here are five tactics he and his team might consider, not to impact the number of people joining swim clubs, but to impact the number of casual fans consuming:
Set modest goals: Few sports attract "year-round" attention. Swimming would upgrade simply by going from quadrennial to creating a one-week-a-year buzz around its World Championships. It's possible they could add a second week with an annual U.S. championships -- but only if they featured Phelps. The bottom line: Try to own a single day out of every year with sports fans; ironically, that's more than enough.
Market himself: For better or worse, Phelps is his own best marketing tool. TV networks can't get enough. Marketers can't get enough. Fans, apparently, can't get enough. He will have to boost interest by keeping himself at the center of the swimming universe - that means racing. Or, at the very least, sitting in the announcing booth next to Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines.
(Take a lesson from Tiger: Without Woods present, golf has dropped off the radar.)
Market others: Phelps should take a lesson from the rappers he enjoys listening to before races. They develop proteges, but incubate them by attaching their own names to them (Dre > Eminem > 50 Cent > Etc.). Think the swimmers at "Phelps Swim Academy" won't get extra notice?
Deploy gimmicks: Phelps should create his own, privately owned swimming series that brings together the biggest names for exhibition showdowns, including 1-on-1 matches. How about a men's 4x100 freestyle relay rematch? Or a rematch with Cavic? Hell, you could put Phelps in a pool by himself -- against the clock -- and it would be interesting. Wouldn't you be curious to see how Phelps could do if he just tried out a random event, like the 1500?
Use his leverage: Based on NBC's lapping devotion to all things Phelps -- and presuming Phelps is going to compete in 2012 -- Phelps should "ask" NBC Universal to help fund not only his swimming series, but also to give it primetime time slots and promotion.
Next post scheduled for 2 p.m.: Another new sports online social network?