Securing Michael Phelps' Brand & Legacy: Insights from His Agent

November 29, 2012

Peter CarlislePeter CarlisleAn athlete-representative is right to mobilize innovative business skills on behalf of his client. But those efforts should be driven not by business itself but by a passion for the athlete's success, emphasized Mark H. McCormack Department of Sport Management Executive-in-Residence Peter Carlisle. The superagent addressed the Isenberg and UMass Amherst communities on November 27 at the UMass Campus Center Auditorium. During his three-day campus residency, Carlisle also visited McCormack classes, met with students, and participated in the UMass Amherst Libraries' Sport Innovation Oral History Project.


As Managing Director of the Olympic and Action Sports division of the Octagon Group, Carlisle represents Olympic icon Michael Phelps. He's also guided the careers of Aly Raisman and other Olympic Gold medalists. Octagon is the world's largest sponsorship consulting practice and a pioneer and leader in athlete and personality representation and management.


Like Mark H. McCormack-whose name graces the sport management program-Carlisle has transformed the sport marketing landscape. "In my career I've looked to Mark McCormack for inspiration. He was a true pioneer," Carlisle told his audience. The same can be said for Michael Phelps, who at age 17 told Carlisle, "I want to change the sport of swimming." Together, Carlisle and Phelps did just that through a long-term strategic plan that has given the young athlete unprecedented leverage over his career and legacy.


For Olympic athletes, branding and marketing opportunities typically "disappear as fast as they come" owing to the quadrennial and narrow time frame of the Games, observed Carlisle. In addition, Olympic authorities have perpetuated "onerous restrictions" that discourage commercial opportunities for individual athletes. For them, "it's been all content and no distribution," he emphasized.


Carlisle transformed that equation for Phelps by legally securing his "brand," negotiating proactively with Olympic authorities, and expanding his windows of opportunity through innovative advertising platforms with VISA, Omega, Speedo, and other commercial partners. Through strategic negotiations and planning, he created pre- and post-Olympic tours for the athlete that frequently gave him grassroots contact with fans-notably children. And he worked to secure Phelps' legacy through a foundation that fosters swimming and swimming safety with Special Olympics and Boys and Girls Club chapters in seven countries. All of those milestones, noted Carlisle, were successes in a unique eight-to-ten-year plan that Carlisle and Phelps worked out together. It all makes for "a rare case study with a unique perspective," Carlisle told the UMass Amherst community.


Watch the address on Livestream.