John Leonard: We are here for a panel this afternoon to talk about the brave new world of swimming. The brave new world of swimming, for some of us of an older generation, went from where there was very little money in the sport to no money in the sport to the day of professional athletes and professional endorsers. So, we have a group of panelists in front of you who deal with that issue constantly. We hope that this will be an enlightening discussion for those of you who will have to deal with this issue in the future. On this panel are National Team Director and Head Coach Mark Schubert, General Manager and Coach Dave Salo, Coach Frank Busch, Coach Alan Thompson Head Coach Australia, Bill Rose, Murray Stephens, Coach Peter Daland and Coach Bob Bowman.
Our panelists are going to take a couple of questions here that are going to set up the rest of the discussion. We are going to start with two very simple things: We have got money in the sport, more than ever. It is never going to go away. I think we would all agree on that. The money comes with pluses and minuses and without being repetitive. Mark, can we start with you? What are the pluses? What do you see as the negatives or the potential negatives?
Mark Schubert: Well I see a lot of pluses. If you look at the average age of our Olympic team it has gotten older. I think the reason it has gotten older is because of the opportunities to stay in the sport. Most of the athletes that I have coached, that are professional athletes, have been realists. They know that the money that you make in swimming may set your life up but certainly it is not going to sustain you for a full and happy life. I think that in most cases, the athletes that I have coached, have not swam for the money. It has been a very fun plus, but it never comes up day to day in practice. It never comes up when we talk goal setting. It is just something that happens and when it happens it is a good thing for them to feel good about themselves. As far as negatives are concerned in making money in swimming would be if an athlete would have to change their training plan to make money. That could happen by changing their goals and to what is most important at the end of the season. They may taper a little bit more often than they should. I would say probably the biggest negative is the stress on the athlete to miss practice because of sponsors and pressure from agents to make appearances. You have good situations and bad situations. If the athlete is mature, has an agent that communicates and truly has the swimming foremost in their mind it usually works out pretty well. If the athlete does exactly what the agent does and stops doing what the coach does, usually the athlete will disappear from the professional picture and international picture very rapidly.
Dave Salo: If it doesn’t affect my contract that is cool. I think it is great for sustaining really good athlete’s careers. I also think it can also impact the negative consequences of sustaining an athlete’s career into their after swimming career. I speak of experience where I have had athletes who are 30-31 living off of their proceeds from the professional contracts, but they are not ready to launch into real life. I think this is a significant negative consequence. I think that is a good enough comment. Thank you.
Frank Busch: You are probably going to hear a lot of repetitive ideas and feelings about this. The two things in my case would be if athletes need to get out of the sport and for some reason they have been given a small contract or a company is interested in them, then they will prolong that. I am not saying that is a bad thing, but not identifying with reality is never a good thing. Do you follow me on that? The other would be, as Mark had stated, you have to be really careful because if the athlete is chasing the dollars they probably are not chasing their career.
Alan Thompson: I think the main thing that we have seen in Australia with the increase of money in the sport is that there is an increase in age of the athletes. I think the average age of the athletes are 22 for the men and 20 for the women. I think that this group of kids that we have now will stay in the sport for a lot longer. I think at the moment, having money in the sport is a bit of a bonus. I think the people are in the sport for the money at the moment and I think they are racing for money or working for money. It is something that comes along with it and I think if it becomes a change that they ask swimming for more money and that is the reason that they do it. It becomes a job. I think probably the benefit of the money in the sport is that it gives the guys the ability to continue training without having the pressure of their day to day living. They are able to rent a place or in some cases buy a place and be able to run their car and lead their life without having the concerns of the money. I think probably the difference between Australia and the US is that we don’t have the issue of the college swimmers, Pro or non-pro and basically every one of our athletes is able to win money all the way through. We don’t have the advantage of a very good college system like you guys do and the guys can earn money right from the beginning. These range from prize money or grants or whatever. So, I think those are probably the main areas. Thank you.
Bill Rose: The main thing that I think people should know is that there is a huge difference between the athlete that is really getting paid and the athlete that is not necessarily getting paid, but saying that they are pro. I know that I deal with the athlete on the lower side. In some cases where indeed they have signed a pro contract, but it is for $2,000 a year with built in bonuses. Those bonuses are if you get a gold medal at the Olympic Games or at the World Championships. These guys are trying to live on $2,000 a year and get another job. So, it is a situation where it is a good thing. It is absolutely a great thing and especially for the people at the higher end. On the other hand, those people that are still striving to compete and get better in the sport, it is also a good thing because I think we have missed several athletes in the past who have wanted to continue and some of them are willing to sign for $2,000 a year because that is how much they love the sport and they will try to find another way. I think the negative, like I say if it is a negative, is that indeed it keeps them there. At the same time is it a huge help? I don’t know, but I will take it anyway just to keep them in the water. Thanks Bill.
Murray Stephens: I have a couple of thoughts. I want to put out a rule first and here is the rule: Always, somebody is making money and somebody’s interests are being furthered and that could be an institution like FINA, USA Swimming, their college or school, club, it could be the individual athlete or coach, but somebody is paying the bill and somebody is getting the money. We know for instance that FINA has a very protective attitude about its contractual rights. They tend to think about the swimmers coming to their events as their performers who will make their event successful, from which they will garner financial success. So, somebody pays money, somebody receives money. What we see, finally, is athletes having an opportunity to gain a greater share and the benefit of that. Besides what is obvious for the athletes, our sport gets a higher profile. The higher the profile, the more popular and well known and then the greater the marketplace recognizes it. The greater the marketplace recognizes it, the more available support, money, sale-ability, etc.. It is not much of a secret for us. I can’t identify my swim club to people I meet, particularly people who don’t really know swimming, unless I throw Michael Phelps at them. If I say well, we are a swim club, North Baltimore Aquatic Club, they look at you and they go, “Michael Phelps? OH, Michael Phelps!” So, you know, it is the way we do things in this country. The higher the profile, the better it sets up the market and people’s attention and you, at your own swim club, need to do the same. “Oh yeah, you are like the little community team that swims in the summer for five weeks right?” No, no, no, we are like the group that has the international people like Michael Phelps. You say that and they are like, “Oh that kind of swimming.” So, I think there are a lot of advantages in gains for us. As Mark said there are going to be disadvantages, but I think the advantages far outweigh the problems.
Peter Daland: Well, the benefits, especially to those that do not have an upper middle class income are immense. No question about that. Generally speaking, American swimming has involved the upper middle class. Probably 95% of past Olympic teams have been upper middle class. Now the door is open for people with less parental money to get into swimming and to stay in it. On the other side of the ledger, a professional contract can prevent the college experience. Just in the last few months one of our top girls was wrestling with ths problem. “ Do I take the contract or will I be a college swimmer?” You can’t do both because the last island of amateurism in the world is high school and collegiate sports. In other countries this is not an issue. It doesn’t matter. Secondly, the money can delay putting away the toys and going to work on whatever your career would be. A lot of people stay in swimming too long. They should have put their toys away and go to work. This would tend to encourage them. Thirdly, companies do demand time. Very often, the time is not only tough on training, it is inconvenient but it is a contract that you signed. You have to be at certain places at certain times and at the company’s wish. What about a cut to the coaches? They are a fairly low income group. When are they going to be cut in because without them, these people wouldn’t have contracts?
Bob Bowman: I think the positives are, particularly in America, the more money that is put into something the more interest people have in it. Particularly in professional sports in America. I think the more money that flows into the sport, the more ability that we will have to market it and to bring it to a wider audience. That will increase interest in the sport of swimming. I deal with athletes on every point on the spectrum. On the one hand, we have Michael who is kind of on another planet in terms of the money situation. We have people who are just barely making it. Then I have some in the middle who are pretty comfortable, but not quite on the level with Michael. One of the things that I see as a negative for all of these guys, but particularly it is an issue for those in the lower end of this scale, is that you start equating certain swims to money. This swim is worth $2,000 and we work very hard to eliminate that. One of the things that Michael does is, he does not know what kind of bonus he is going to receive for a certain swim. Unless he wins 7 gold medals in the Olympic Games, he knows that, okay? Everybody knows that. That was a marketing tool, alright? So, he never came up thinking wow, if I break this record I will get this money. He knows money comes in. He has a view of his broader portfolio but that is something that I think really helps him stay fixed on the swimming. He understands that without the swimming, there is no money. The performance has to come first. The other thing, it is kind of the flip side of people staying in the sport longer, is that it used to be that half the Olympic team would retire after every ever Olympic games. That opened up spots on half the Olympic team for developing athletes. So, I think that the Olympic team was younger and the developmental process was shorter. Now it is being lengthened. What used to be the very best athletes, maybe if you had a superstar in high school they had a great chance to make the Olympic team. Now that process is being delayed. I am not sure what all the implications are except that they are going to have to be more patient. People like Brendan Hansen, Michael, and Ian Crocker staying in the sport longer they have a lot more opportunity to keep pushing the boundaries of performance higher and higher. I do think that has implications for developing future talent and how we are going to keep them interested and motivated towards moving towards the higher standards because it is going to be a lot more difficult than it used to be when people just retired after they had been to one or two Olympics and got a job.
John Leonard: Bob, why don’t you keep the microphone right now and we will come back. Let’s start with Peter’s question for a minute because I think that is a good place to go. The issue of what happens when athletes are earning money? What happens with the coach’s share has been around now for probably more than a decade. Some of the issues that have been raised or thought about is, Should the coach share in the prize money when athletes are winning prize money? Should the coach share in the endorsement money? Should they share in both? Should they share in neither? Should they simply pay a different fee structure to the club right along? All of those things are fairly significant. The spectrum of a million dollar athlete who is still paying his $125.00 club dues is pretty bazaar, right? Let’s work our way back across the table and touch on those items at this point.
Bob Bowman: Okay. I will speak to my own personal experience because like I said, I have a spectrum of athletes. We have a spectrum of things that go on. The first and easy one to me is the professional athletes who are in our program. They are doing this for a living. They need to be pretty serious about it and they pay substantially higher fees than anybody in the program. For the winter, my guys will pay $2,500. They will pay another $1,000. for the summer. That is higher than the average club fee, but they are also getting more. They are using more of my personal energy , our whole staff is traveling and working with them. They need to cover those expenses and they can pay it. Because they are getting paid, I think it is a good investment. They are making an investment in their future. Looking at the other aspects of the money, it is less clear-cut for me. When I first kind of got into this and we started having more and more pros, I wanted to have a clear cut policy and it became evident that we really couldn’t. On the one hand, I have a very long term relationship with Michael and without getting into too many specifics, I have a very formal agreement with him in terms of compensation, for periods of years that we have renewed but that is largely based on my contribution, to whatever Michael Phelps Incorporated is over the long-term. There are incentive clauses there because it makes sense to have incentives for me to do a good job with him. He makes more money, everybody you know moves along. So, we have a very structured agreement which I think works well for everybody and we have been at it for a long time. With those on the lower end of the scale, I realize that after they pay those club dues there is just not much left so I don’t take a percentage of their earnings per se. I am rewarded through the USA Swimming Coach incentive program which is indirectly from their performances. So, I get that kind of the incentive with them. I think we take it on a case by case basis but the money is there for coaches. I think we are also going to get more opportunities to make money just on our own as the whole sport itself grows.
Murray Stephens: I won’t. I think a couple of things. First of all, I find myself lately kind of studying the world of golf quite a bit and I made a comment to my children, we were watching the golf channel I wish I could pay one of them $25.00 to sit there for 18 hours and count how many times Tiger Woods image appears on the screen. I think we counted 10 or 11 times in 20 minutes between advertisements and just throwing his picture up there in transitional mode for the station. So, one thing I would refer to ASCA to consider is to look at is maybe even not just high profile people like Lance Armstrong or Tiger Woods but your medium level golfer who you may not know. How about the guy who is about 160th down the line on a pro-golf tour? He makes in 7 figures. They have caddies, managers and blah, blah, blah. Michelle Lee’s parents just fired their last caddy who has been helping the manager over the last three or four years. I think they had an inner-family, inner-group dispute. This brings us back to the fact that parents probably shouldn’t be managing the athlete. There are these models out there, these relationships and percentages and so on. We are pretty new to this thing. I think as we go along and as more people like Michael or swimmers that are more medium level performers in terms of earnings appear, it is then when we can learn more about how we can manage our activities like higher level sports. I also say again, that I think it is probably true in all sports; you can’t perform just for the money. I don’t think they will swim fast for money. I have said that for the last 15 years. We had one of the first high school athletes, Anita Knoll, go pro. I want to comment quickly on what I consider to be one of the model statements from Michael. Bob was talking to him one day not about the professional part but about what meets are we going to go to, what do you think your goals are and what do you think we should be working on? Michael said, “Bob, you take care of that stuff, run the workouts and I will swim them”. You know, I will take care of the swimming. You just take care of all the other stuff. I think that you couldn’t ask for anything more. Generally speaking, I heard the same thing from Tiger Woods. In one of his recent tournaments, he said “Well, I went and I paid this guy to coach me and he told me to do this in the first couple of holes. “What the heck”, I said “I may as well try it and it worked. So, you know, here is one of the greatest golfers in the history of the sport but he still has some other adult telling him what to do because he doesn’t necessarily think he should be trying to self-analyze every day. So there you go.
Bill Rose: Again, I am comparing the high and the low, not that all of my swimmers were gold people, I don’t want to give you that thought. The fact is that those that are making the big money deserve every penny of it, as far as I am concerned and God bless them. With the athletes that are coming, still have a passion for the sport, have that ability to continue to improve, still want to be in the sport and so on…. What we try to do is take that little amount of money that they do make and make it worthwhile enough for them to get to the next meet. The question came up as to what the dues were, etc. We do not give free dues, except for those people that are Olympic veterans. We make them life members. So, they do get free dues. There are people that go to the Olympic Games that do not make money and you have got to realize that. So, when I say they are on the low end of the totem pole, these are Olympians, but they are not making money. So, they still need help. I have Olympians on my team that is looking for a home that will give them room and board so they can continue to try and make the next Olympic team. So, it is a situation where indeed I think that the money is here to stay. I am just hoping that we can find a way to continue to keep those people that have a passion for this sport to stay in the sport.
Alan Thompson: As someone said forward, we are all pretty new to this. I think Kiernan Perkins is probably one of the first who started making some real money out of the sport. We haven’t really got a handle on how to distribute that money. I think you look at some sports that have been around for a long time, like horse racing, where there is a certain percentage for the jockey, for the trainer or for the owner. Just like golf where the same percentages go to the caddy or the coach. I think they have had that pretty set over a large number of years now and I think that is probably what we need to work towards. There is at least one manager in Australia who is placing percentages of income to the coaches in their contracts, along with all the swimmers that we are dealing with. So, that is only one of probably half a dozen managers that look after most of the big swimmers in Australia. I think that is an important thing and it is becoming more accepted in Australia. I think you also have to look at where the income comes from, as to what percentage the coaches should get or any of it. In Australia, we have swimmers that have gained income from Australia Swimming. They pay a percentage of money that they get from the Australian government and from the Australian Olympic Committee. Sponsorships and endorsements that they have acquired are added on top of that. The coaches get money from a coach incentive like what you just told me about before. We have a middle tier as well. I think if we want to look at the issue of sharing earned money in swimming – Do Coaches share money based on their swimmers performances to the athletes as well? I think that is an interesting situation that we can address in the whole scheme of the whole thing. One thing that I picked up from before is that we were talking about the guys staying in the sport longer and the opportunities for the younger guys don’t occur as quickly. I think the situation that you have in the US where you can go to college for that 19-22 year period is a very big advantage. In Australia, we don’t have that situation so we have to keep on finding things for these guys to do to keep them in the sport through that very important time and especially for the boys. I think it is important that they are able to stay in the sport. We are looking at opportunities to meet this goal. We bought a team of 17-20 year old women and 19-22 year old men to the West coast last year to swim in Bill’s meet in Santa Clara. I think there are these sort of competitions that we need to encourage our guys to keep them in the sport.
John Leonard: Allen, before you give up the mike, you guys have had a lot more experience with this in terms of both time and depth of people who were actually getting paid a salary and money for swimming. One of the questions I was asked when this topic was broached a few months ago was: Have you ever seen the experience where, I think athletes and coaches would agree, that the training environment is probably the #1 reason in why someone would be training with a particular squad or with a particular coach. The question was: Have you ever seen or do you ever anticipate there being a situation where athletes are changing training situations based on percentages of what they are doing with their coach and monetary concerns? Is that an issue? Has it ever been an issue? Do you worry about it being an issue?
Alan Thompson: I think it might be an issue in the future. I don’t believe it has been so far. I think Bill just said that it is only a very small proportion of athletes who are earning a large amount of money. We might be looking at maybe six athletes on our team who are earning what you would consider to be a very good income. The rest are on a negligible income. At the moment, there is probably four of those six athletes with this manager who is putting a percentage on and encouraging them. I think that the manager we are talking about here was an Olympic Silver Medalist so he knows what it is like to be a swimmer. He has been a coach. He has been a business man. He is trying to put in place a situation that is fair and equitable for everyone. We don’t want to see situations where the first couple of our brightest swimmers have gone on to make enormous amounts of money and the coaches have gotten nothing out of it. Not just a pat on the back by their peers. At the moment, I don’t think that that would be the case. If we can go forward with a set percentage, we are talking about 5% of income that is generally agreed upon with this one manager. I think that is a fair amount. The managers in Australia take 20% of income, which I think is pretty hefty and then the usual agreement is to sign on for 5% for the coach. No other managers have that agreement with their athletes. In the agreement that I had with one of my swimmers, it was 5% of income over and above $85,000. So, my point with my athlete was I believe that they should earn a good income before I take any of their percentage. That agreement was for the period of time that I coached the athlete, plus three years afterward as well.
Murray Stephens: Could you define manager versus coach?
Alan Thompson: Yes, managers are what I think you guys call agents. At the moment, we have very good relations between our managers or agents and the coaches. The coaches really drive the arrangements. They are not really endorsers of products. I suppose to some extent they are but they realize that they won’t be able to endorse a product if they are not swimming very well. So, they work very closely with the coaches to make sure that they don’t interfere with the training program.
Frank Busch: One thing that I strongly believe in is that we are trying to teach accountability and responsibility with our athletes. I think that is something that I know United States Swimming is doing a much better job with now. From my standpoint, I think it is important that the kids pay some nominal fee in order to continue to train because that teaches them the responsibility of, they have to swim if money is connected to it. Even if it is a small fee, they are responsible for that and it means something to them, therefore, they are paying for it. So, I really believe in that way in which you can teach a lesson. Lets face it, most of the kids in the sport of swimming come from white collar families where education is a top priority and most of them are funded throughout their careers. Many of them have never had a job before. Sometimes I will tease my kids about: Can anyone here make change for a dollar? And I know that sounds like they might be offended by it, but they know that it is in jest, the point that I am trying to make is that if you are going to go through this, then there needs to be some accountability and responsibility as you go. If that has been handled by your parents the whole time, it is time for you to step up. Obviously from what the majority of the athletes in our country, the funding is not enough where they can support themselves without their parents or someone else being involved. That being said, as far as what we do in our program, obviously we charge our post-grads a small fee. I have never had an agreement with an athlete as far as a percentage goes in my particular case, but we have quite a few post-grads that are making some substantial income and I don’t know if that is something that we will pursue, but as far as I am concerned responsibility and accountability and the way you go about that is very important. Who knows when that will run out. For the athlete to be mature enough to handle it from that point forward, I think , is the most important lesson that I can help them with.
Dave Salo: I got a nice Nike umbrella from Aaron Peirsol two years after he went pro — which you don’t need in Southern California. I think athletes won’t know to give back unless we tell them to give back. I think they have done a really nice job of giving back to the sport, but there is a lack of understanding that they do give back to their own programs and directly to the coach. I think we have to tell them that. There is a sense of entitlement. More of my pro-athletes will come back to me going: Well coach, why do we have to pay for dues? Why do we have to pay training fees? It is like: Well you take up more of my time than the 15 year old kid who never asks for constant meetings with me and you know travel arrangements and all these kinds of things. So, we need to tell them that and I would propose and suggest strongly to USA Swimming that they need to start that process by charging the declared professional athlete more to be a member. Then with that membership they become eligible for the perks of USA Swimming being on a national A team or whatever it might be.
Mark Schubert: I think the Coach Incentive program has been a great step forward. I think it not only recognizes the coach that is currently working with the elite athlete, but it recognizes the developmental coach and I think there is a lot to be said for that. I think that program should be expanded to include gold medals and world records. I had never considered charging any athlete more than I charge the slowest athlete in the program. We always charged them dues. When I set out to be a coach, the reason I did that was because I admired my high school coach. I didn’t admire him because he made a lot of money. I admired him because he did a lot for kids and he got a lot of satisfaction for that. You know, I think if you look at a baseball manager or a football coach, they do not make extra money when somebody breaks a record. I just would not feel comfortable charging somebody more or taking a percentage of an athlete’s money because I know that although it seems like a lot of money at the time, twenty years from now it is not going to be a lot of money for them. I think coaches have a responsibility to be entrepreneurial in their own rite. If money is important to you, there are plenty of opportunities to make money whether it be Swim America, clinics or swim camps. If you want to put the energy into it there is money to be made. Personally, I would have a hard time taking it from a record bonus or a gold medal bonus.
John Leonard: Thanks Mark, why don’t you hang on. I would like to shift the focus just slightly now and where we want to go to eventually here over the next 20 or 30 minutes is to start talking about some of the changes in as the athletes mature from just below world level to world record holders and very elite athletes. Some of the scheduling issues that crop up in terms of training and how those things are handled. That is a topic that is really murky, at least in American swimming and I believe in World swimming. That is the whole issue of agents. If the panelists would reflect for a couple of minutes on what their beliefs are about what an agent is for. Maybe a little bit about how the athlete and the coach feel about selecting an agent. What some of the pitfalls are in that process? Then a really complex question: which is most of our elite coaches have their own professional contracts with swim suit companies etc. and how does that tie into the athlete? What happens when the athlete has a contract with a different swim suit company? Without belaboring this endlessly could we maybe get some thoughts and opinions from our panelists on that topic? Mark, would you like to start?
Mark Schubert: think that there are some real good agents out there. I think that there are some agents that work for a lot of athletes. I always look at the swim suit contract as the easy money. I try to encourage the athletes to challenge the agent by seeing if they can get somebody to negotiate their swim suit contract. Then they see how much the agent wants to be their agent, after the swim suit contract is negotiated. That is where the work is done. I think the best agent I ever saw was Janet Evans’ first agent, Jerry Solomon, he had a vision of getting six corporations to sponsor her before the Olympics and give her contracts that would go six years after the Olympics. Many of those corporations she still works for to this day. She has, obviously, proven her benefit and worth by making appearances, motivational speeches and so forth. I thought that was very forward thinking and I thought that truly was a great agent. We have agents that encourage athletes to take their clothes off for magazines. That is not in the spirit of what we are trying to promote in the sport of swimming. Swimming is a family activity and to me, an agent like that is a disgrace. My personal opinion.
Dave Salo: The biggest problem I have had with agents is that they kind of used their authority upon the athlete to the extent that a lot of times the kids are getting out of the pool after a performance and the first person they go and see is either the suit manufacturer, the apparel manufacturer or their agent. Somewhere down the line they come back to see the coach and go over their meet results. I think there is a learning curve on the part of the agents. I think we have to be pro-active and interactive with the agents to try and set a standard that it promotes our sport, our athletes and doesn’t denigrate our athletes or denigrate our programs but promotes everybody all along the way. It continues to be an issue. I don’t have a good answer to it. I know that you brought this issue about. I have a contract with Speedo and it is a good contract. I have told Speedo when they were talking with me, I sell more suits than your athletes do. If I have 500 kids on my team and I tell them you are wearing Speedo, that is what they are wearing and that is what they are buying. It doesn’t matter that Jason Lezak comes in and wears a Nike suit. I did have an occasion at the Olympic trials in 2004 to unattach one of my athletes because he had come to me and asked to train with me. He wanted to be on the Olympic team with my help, I did that for him, and he chose to wear a Nike suit even though I was a Speedo swim team. So, I unattached him and said, you are on your own. I don’t think that most of us as coaches would do that because we are more caught up in our attachment to the athletes and their performance. I think we are still new and young at this. None of us were astute enough as Bob was to set a pattern of engagement with agents and athletes. I think Bob was in a unique position to have a very young successful athlete. My athletes as they have gone on to write contracts have been older and more disconnected from me as their manager, if you will. They just tend to go to the agent more directly and that tends to be a problem, I think.
Frank Busch: I guess the rule of thumb that I have used over the years has been: if any contract with any agents and if an athlete is going to train in our program or train with us, then they must assume that I have their best interest at heart. What is most important in swimming is what they have to do first is set who the primary decision maker is, so to speak. Especially If their agent sees something different. I haven’t really heard that because my answer would be: This is what I think is important and if you want to continue to be guided by our program then you need to know that this is where you are going to be. So, I have never really had a problem with an agent calling me up or even an athlete coming back and challenging something that I thought was important for them to do. I have been fortunate along those lines. As Mark said, there are probably a lot of good agents out there. I don’t know. I know people that are agents. I don’t know them well and I don’t really ever foresee myself being involved in that.
Alan Thompson: I suppose we are a bit lucky in Australia – we have probably less than 20 agents who are looking after our swimmers in the sport. We will meet with those agents once a year to talk with them about our plans and our progress and so on. We let them understand what Australian Swimming is all about. So I would imagine that there would be a lot more than 20 agents working throughout the U.S. Probably the biggest complaint that I have about our agents is that they are all very good at making money for the athletes but they are not very good at looking after their own personal welfare or giving them the fatherly or motherly advice that perhaps a swimming coach gives them for guidance in their life. They don’t tend to protect the athletes as they grow. If you look at someone like Ian Thorpe who has grown very quickly over a short space of time and is under great demand. I think that Ian has been looked after very well financially, but perhaps not as well personally. I think that is probably a learning experience for the manager or agent as well. The biggest issue we have, that needs controlling in Australia, is the media. Swimming is such a big sport in Australia that the higher paid guys are very much under pressure from the media at all times. It is interesting to note listening to the issues about swim suit manufacturers. You may be surprised to know that less than 20 athletes in Australia have swim suit contracts. There would probably be three or four that have swim suit contracts worth more than $15,000. The rest would be under $15,000 Australian dollars and there is no coach that has a swim suit contract in Australia.
Bill Rose: I have only had one athlete that has had an agent and that was way back in 2000. I didn’t like the agent and the reason I didn’t like the agent is very similar to what has been said is that the guy wasn’t making a lot of money. Again, the guy wasn’t making a lot of money from the agent and the agent wanted most of his time. It bothered me that the agent didn’t work with me along the way. It depends on how big your contract is and whether you even need an agent or not. A couple of my swimmers have come to me and said, “Well, should I look for an agent?” and I say, “ Well, are you making any money?” And he says, “Well, no I am not.” and I say, “Well, don’t you think you should have some money before you get an agent or have access to it.” So again we have got to understand that we are not talking about a whole bunch of our swimmers here. The other thing is that I happen to have a contract with TYR. You can probably tell by reading my sandwich sign that I always wear. The fact is that I think that is very important for my athletes to realize that I am loyal to the company that I work for and my team is sponsored by that particular company. So, therefore, when they swim for my team, by golly they are going to wear the uniform that is sponsored through that team. When they go to international competitions and so on: if they are sponsored by another suit company, you go right ahead and you do what you have to do. You are representing The United States. In fact, the United States allows people to wear other suit manufacturers at that competition, but if they are swimming for my team, they are going to stay with that team and I honor Coach Salo for what he did in 2004.
Murray Stephens: Well, our team is Speedo. I think it is fair to say that I will throw an ad out that Speedo has been the #1 group in our sport in the last two decades or more. People out there getting small amounts of money and there is, you know, more than a half a dozen to a dozen or more getting fairly substantial amounts of money. I really don’t understand how the Australians coaches do not get any money from swim suits because I think Speedo has a pretty substantial, certainly in 7 figures, coach support program that has been very beneficial to our club. I am not just giving an ad for Speedo, but I think that the agent and/or the group that is providing the endorsement is part of your team. There will probably never come a time when you wont have a few agents out there that you can’t stand or do not interact properly with the athletes or coaches. That is all part of this “shake-out period”. We find those people who are really good at what they do in terms of positively helping to affect the development, performance and the marketing. Since I had the forum and the microphone, I also wanted to make a comment that in terms of partners, team members and support, I don’t know again, how often it happens but you know, our athletes that have gone to college after they became professionals have gotten free tuition at the college. They are not able to swim for the college, but they get a college scholarship to be at the college. That of itself makes a comment on the marketability and the interest in the institution in having that athlete at the institution. There are times when the athlete swims at US Nationals or an International meet. Most home town or national media, particularly USA Today, will say, “Michael Phelps, University of Michigan okay?” He doesn’t swim for the University of Michigan. He just goes to school there, okay? In our case when Michael was in high school:” Michael Phelps, Townsend High School.” Now, Townsend High School didn’t get any money out of it, but it received a lot of community support and notoriety. A lot of people would be getting a lot of benefit out of him and not a drop of water did he ever touch his toe in at that school. They don’t have a pool, but they got a huge amount of support from that. That is why your institutions are going to give scholarships or tuition free schooling to swimmers because they are an important part of the institutional marketing, okay? So, I think that there are a lot of partners out there that are part of your team. We have physical therapists that are part of our team. In many cases, they enjoy being part of what is going on. They also enjoy the benefit of being associated with us. It may be the small amount of money that they get for their services, but the marketing capabilities out of helping us be part of that team.
Peter Daland: I was a Speedo coach for 30 years and I am thankful to them. I couldn’t have stayed in swimming without them. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it made the difference. So, I recognize the need that coaches have to get in on all of this. Some people probably have dropped out of coaching because they are not getting anything out of it and yet they may have athletes that are getting quite a bit. I think that we really have to think a lot about that. A second thing is, this summer in Budapest, where I was sent over by out Federation to get a look at what Europe is doing, two very famous European swimmers came up to me and told me they were concerned about the new FINA rule that the athlete must wear the emblem of the company of FINA’s sponsor on the cap and on the training suit. It was none of my business, but I just referred them to the athlete’s commission head and the head of the IOC athlete’s commission and we will see if anything comes about it.
Bob Bowman: I wanted to clarify one thing that I said before when I told you what I charged those guys, the post-grads. I don’t make a penny from Pueblo Marine. Pueblo Marine is a money loser, trust me. I got the $23,000. bill for our national hotel last week and we cover expenses to Nationals. What they do pay is the regular dues that everyone else would pay, but they pay for their facility time. They pay for their lane space during the winter. That is how that all works out. One thing that I would like to talk about in terms of an agent is that I think that people who are making a substantial amount of money in this sport cannot survive without an agent. It is absolutely necessary. Just as necessary as a coach is because you choose somebody who is going to be working fulltime on trying to bring in income for you, increase your marketability and kind of have you out there in the market place. Having said that, I do have a couple of varieties of interactions with agents and I will tell you about Michael’s last and it is a little bit different. Peter Carlisle represents Michael. Some of the things that he has done for some of our swimmers who have turned professional, but may be who are on the lower end of the scale, where the majority of the money that they are going to make is in an apparel contract. There is really not much potential outside of that. He has actually negotiated the apparel contract for a couple of my athletes. That is the end of his involvement with them. He doesn’t take a fee for negotiating the contract. He doesn’t get a percentage of what happens from that and he doesn’t take a percentage of clinics that might come up or anything like that. They can actually make more money this way but he cannot help them professionally in that way. Having said that, as you move up the scale, the agent becomes more and more important because he has to 1) drum up this business. You know I talked a little bit about the fact that Michael wanted to incentivize me, to kind of help him, which he doesn’t have to do, but I am glad he does. The same with the agent I don’t get a percentage of any of the deals that he gets with outside companies. I am only incentivized on performance money that he might be able to earn. The agent is only incentivized on money that he brings in on the business side. He doesn’t get any money from performances that Michael swims. Then there is a little pot of money that Michael gets from USA Swimming. He keeps that and we don’t care what he does with that. That’s his stipend, kind of his mad money. When we decided that Michael would be a professional, I think it was unique because he was very young and we looked extensively at a lot of different people. When I say we: Debbie and Fred Phelps, Michael’s parents, did not want to be involved in choosing an agent. They said, “Bob, you and Michael do it.” Yeah well, Michael is 15, so what I did was enlist the help of a couple people that we thought really knew the business end of things. There were a couple of lawyers in a local law firm, one of who worked exclusively on trusts for pro-athletes like Michael Vick and Michael Vicks personal attorney. Then we had an accountant so there was a little team. Then we interviewed agents. We looked at a lot of different companies and a lot of different options. I thought there were a lot of very good options. We settled on Octagon and Peter Carlisle for a couple of reasons. The main reason was, up front, before we ever did anything, clarified what our relationship would be. When I say our relationship, I mean coach, agent and swimmer. Why I think Michael has been able to be so successful swimming-wise over a long period of time, having been a professional, is that the agent and I work very close together in determining the kind of things that he is going to do. It does not take him away from the training program. Now does that mean he is never away from the training program? No, but I get to make the decisions about when he is, for how long, what the training situation is going to be and I control all of that. I would say everything that comes in goes through the agent, then it is filtered through me and then it goes to Michael. Michael only sees about 1/3 of the opportunities that come up. This helps him in making a decision about well, do I want to do this or don’t I? So, that is a very good thing. This way he doesn’t have to be bothered with it. He doesn’t get distracted by things. There is a good long-term plan that that we are focused on and everyone really knows what their role is. I have been very, very happy with that arrangement. I think it is a model that people could use. Unfortunately, I think sometimes when you are older and the athlete has a lot more of an active role in choosing the agent than maybe Michael did than they can be swayed by things that aren’t important like: Do I like him the most? Did they take me to a hip club or any of that kind of stuff because there is a lot of that out there. If you can stay focused on what you are trying to accomplish and you know what the goals are and for us they are performance. Nothing that we do matters unless there is performance. That is one thing that Michael believes in, his agent believes in and I believe in and we proved it in Athens. We are going to hopefully keep it going. I think we have a good plan. We have been through some ups and downs and I think one of the things that you find out about your agent is: Are they going to be there to support you when you have some down time? Michael certainly has had those and I thought it was handled quite well and that is another thing that we couldn’t do. That I couldn’t do by myself, his mom or dad. It was somebody that we hired part-time. So, I think it is important to have an agent, but you can set up the guidelines ahead of time.
John Leonard: Bob, there were several gems there. Can you just keep that mic for a second. Two things that really caught my ear right away: one was discussing the division of money so that performance, which relates to the coach, you are incentivized?
Bob Bowman: Exactly.
John Leonard: Other economic opportunities that come in are incentivized to the agent? I thought that was really interesting. The second thing that 15 year old said was that because the agent was selected at such an early age, the athlete was not distracted to the same extent. In that you were able to, again, I don’t want to take words our of your mouth, but the concept was that he is only seeing one of every three offers?
Bob Bowman: Exactly.
John Leonard: To kind of shift this conversation to make one more good pass down the table. I think that is one of the issues that are important to people. A less mature athlete or an athlete perhaps coming to this whole process later in their life, might be tempted. As they have been in other sports and we are well aware of those that go chasing the money at every opportunity. In track and field or road racing it would be: Go racing every weekend rather than training okay? You have described Michael in many talks as a motivation machine. If things go well he is motivated by that. If things go poorly he is motivated by that. He just finds a way to be motivated by everything. So, let’s step away from Michael because that is kind of an unusual case. We would all probably aspire to have those athletes. Let’s look at a more ordinary athlete that you might have and pre-money, post-money and the I can go chase the money every weekend or I can train. How do each of you deal with those athletes as they go through that process, as they get older, to help try to make appropriate decisions so that they can continue as they age. Not just get older in the sport, but to continue to get faster? So let’s take one more pass on the table Bob, take a crack at that.
Bob Bowman: Well, I will speak to my experience. I had a couple of guys from my college team that are going to stay and train. Peter Van der Kay, David Starwater and they are members of the World Championship team. They are not the top members of the World Championship team but they definitely want to train through 2008. So, we wanted to give them a situation where they could support themselves and also get the job done in the pool. For them it is very important that the job is done in the pool. I think they are not in a position where they can perform at less than their best and make it. They have to be at their best. What we did was Peter helped them negotiate an apparel contract. That baseline amount is enough to help them live. Not live at a high level, but certainly pay all of their bills and be comfortable from now until 2008. There are ways that they can make more money by swimming faster. What we did in the very beginning was sit down and talk about what was most important in their case. In their cases, they are not going to live the rest of their life on swimming money. They are going to live for two years on swimming money and that is going to allow them to train and do what they love and be on an Olympic team, hopefully. So, that then led back to what is your most important goal. Your important goal is not to see how many clinics you can do to pick up $1,000. over a weekend. Your important goal is to be on the top two spots of that podium in two years. So, I think once they bought into that, it was easier for me to help them decide what they are going to do in terms of outside activities. Outside of just what is required by their apparel contract which is fairly minimal and not intrusive. I have some athletes who have come to me, after having been professional for some time, Eric Vendt, Kaitlin Sandeno and Klete Keller kind of fit into this category. I think maybe there have been times where they maybe have done more with appearances and things like that which took away from their training. More than they are doing now. They are now a, kind of coming to the sport where, in all of their cases, would be their third Olympic team. They are in this to do well at those Olympic Games. They are not in this to see how much money they can make between now and then. Eric had basically just stopped doing anything a year ago. He only came back because he loves to swim. So, he is very similar, in that it is easy for me to focus them on their performance goals and not worry about the money as much and they are willing to, at least thus far, cut down some of the things they would have done, so that they can have a chance to sort of either get back to their old performance level or improve. Then of course you have Michael who we just kind of let go.
Peter Daland: I strongly feel that Bob is on the right track with the slightly “down the line” top swimmer because really, all they are going to need is just enough to get by, probably only for two years, maybe for a bit more. Mainly, being a little bit down the line, they have got to fight desperately to get to the Olympics and to get on top position in their events and just that alone is going to keep them busy. I really think their only possibility is to be able to concentrate 100% on the swimming.
Murray Stephens: Okay, lets get perfectly clear on this because we have a lot of discussion going on about the swimmer in the medium or lower levels of the National Team or the Olympic team. Mark can give you the exact number on that in terms of what the requirements are. I was involved in this program as Technical Advice President. I have been away from it for two years, but the people on the USA Team get $16,000. Mark, listen, $16,000 a month for support from United, I mean a year, $1,600 a month. That is 16-17,000 a year from US Swimming for their position on that team. If they maintain that position and the US Olympic Committee can give them a marketing ad ….. they have a start, right? That is a pretty decent start. So, you know these guys and these girls who were saying, well they don’t have a swim suit contract. Well they are getting 16-17,000 a year right there, okay? It is not getting rich on that, but it is decent food money, okay? So, there is a start there. One thing I was involved in, in terms of dealing with athletes and obviously when you are dealing with a room full of athletes, instead of one or two, then you are going to have a ground swell for corporate welfare. Well, everybody needs to get more money. We also have the athletes who, when they heard about the coach’s incentive program – there were some of those who said, “Wait a minute. There is $300,000. plus or $400,000. in the coach incentive program which is going to be divided up among twenty or thirty coaches. This isn’t fair. That money should be going to us. We don’t want the coaches to have money. There is going to be a lot of self-serving talk going on. I think the bottom line is you have to keep it under control or you are paying guys that might be your 8th guy or missed the relay by two spots of the 6th person choices for the relay. The 8th guy is getting 30 grand to be the 8th guy. Well, not much of an incentive to be the 3rd guy you know? Unless there is going to be a lot more money between 8 and 3. So, I think we have done a pretty good job of keeping a little bit of a lid on it and making it fair for any athlete out there that is with the USA Team and is relying on that money. This is the support money for expenses which is how it is defined. They can make a few more thousand for this appearance and that appearance. That brings them in the low 20’s without impacting their day to day training very much.
Bill Rose: I will reiterate that we have come a long, long way. In 1976 I had a swimmer that broke two World Records and had two Gold Medals in the Olympics. He got nadda. Did he get any living expenses for the next four years? NO. Did he get any kind of contract for the next four years? NO. He decided to go to the 1980 Olympics which turned out to be the quasi Olympics, but he gave up his entire freedom of life or moving on in life. He had his new wife work as a waitress at Denny’s to keep him going and keep his entire living expenses going. So, we have come a long, long way. I have got to admit that. Having the A & B situation for the Nationals is a perfect deal. It is great. If you are on the top 8 in the world you are on the A Team. If you are the top 16 in the world you are on the B Team. With a couple of alternatives along the way. The fact is, you can be 17th, 18th or 19th in the world and you are still in the same position as that gentleman was in 1976 Olympics because, believe it or not, that is a very good swimmer. You do have a chance if you are the kind of swimmer that had that passion to continue on. Maybe you are going to be the next medal winner at the next Olympics. I just want you to know that there are those people out there that are still in that position. That are still trying to get by and that is okay because I think that is typical of our sport. We have to continue to think about. That is okay. All the money that we have for all these people is even better, but it is okay to still try to make a buck to continue to go on. I am trying every way I can to help those kinds of people. The athletes that still have the love for the sport. I still think it is a very pure situation.
Alan Thompson: I think that no matter how much money comes into the sport, the only way the people will continue to earn money is if they continue to perform. The only way that they will continue to perform is if they continue to train appropriately. I think that the times, that I have noticed, when people’s training is compromised and the swimmers are not able to do what they need to do to continue performing, is when you have a manager who is fairly inexperienced or doesn’t plan properly. So, the three things that I think that need to be really knotted out between a coach, the athlete and a manager is the planning. So we can make sure that the season is appropriately divided and the activities are appropriate to the time of the season. The communication between all those three people has to be very good. It is no good just for the manager or the agent to talk to the athlete. The agent must talk to the coach to prioritize the activities during that time of year. What I have noticed of the highest profile athletes is that they all have block-out periods of time. A certain period before each major competitions that are blocked out. At that time there will be no more activity during that period of time. I think the lower level athletes have a little more trouble with that because they need to secure the finances when they can. I think prioritization and communication are the main things.
Frank Busch: I don’t think that kids got into the sport of swimming initially with any visions of grandeur. As far as, what type of money they were going to make. As they progress up the ladder and some opportunities present themselves I think it is great. You always remind them how they got there and let them know that the priority is to continue to progress. If that becomes an issue with them, then their priorities are probably mixed up. In which case: you, as the coach, need to sit down with your athlete and make sure that they are on the same page. Making sure they are looking at the same things that you are.
Mark Schubert: You know, any athletes that I have dealt with, basically in the fall, I sit down with the calendar and we map out the season. Whether, they have been professional athletes or high school athletes it is the same thing. You know, if you are going to go to the prom or you know if you are going to do some kind of a vacation with your family. We talk about it. Either the athlete is in or the athlete is out. We make a plan, they sign off on the plan and then if they come back to me and they say, yeah, but my agent wants to do this. I just ask them one question: “ Is it in the plan?” And then it is real easy. It is a yes or a no answer. If it is in the plan it is a yes. If it is not in the plan and it was not signed off on at the beginning of the season – it is a no.
John Leonard: Thanks Mark. As you can see, this whole topic has more facets than the Hope diamond. It is something we are going to live with, probably, from this point forward in the sport. There are more questions that are raised than there are answers. Every time we talk about it we come up with a new list of questions. It is an important topic to continue to consider and I would like you all to thank our panelists for the afternoon of their contributions to the discussion. Gentlemen, thank you very much.