Kellogg’s breaks ranks, deal with Phelps

When I spoke to sports marketers earlier this week, they said Michael Phelps needed to put his face out there in response to last weekend’s bong photo and not hide behind a statement. Wednesday, he spoke to the press for the first time since the photo’s publication and Thursday afternoon he appeared before WBAL’s television cameras.

But now, another setback. Apparently Kellogg Co. doesn’t want anything to do with that face, as it announced Thursday night it would let its contract with the Olympian expire at the end of this month.

Phelp’s management team issued a statement in response:

“Michael accepts these decisions and understands their point of view,” the statement issued by Octagon said. “He feels bad he let anyone down. He’s also encouraged by the thousands of comments he’s received from his fans and the support from his many sponsors. He intends to work hard to regain everyone’s trust.”

Many people (fans or otherwise) have said Phelps is a 23-year-old who used poor judgment — it’s not the first or last time someone his age has done that. I get that, and I suspect on some level even Kellogg’s gets that too.

But the marketers I spoke to noted that while Phelps is only human, his sponsors have paid money for his wholesome, hard-worker image. Last weekend’s photo is a blow to that image his sponsors weren’t anticipating, as with they might with other athletes (party boys Matt Leinart and Bode Miller come to mind).

There’s a reason Kellogg’s, a very family-oriented brand, signs athletes like Phelps and doesn’t sign ones like Miller or Leinart. This is a business decision and the cereal maker is looking out for itself.

Do you agree with Kellogg’s backing out? Will there be more sponsors to follow?

LIZ FARMER, Business Writer

The ‘Phelps brand’ and the Hilton

08_25_phelpsblog.jpgAt the Hilton Convention Center Hotel’s official opening Friday, a Hilton official mentioned the hotel brand’s recent endorsement of Olympic swimmer and Baltimore native Michael Phelps and said they hoped to bring Phelps around the new downtown hotel sometime soon.

David Warschawski, a Baltimore-based sports marketing and branding expert, said the key to Hilton’s partnership with Phelps is to create opportunities where people can actually interact with the athlete rather than just watch him from afar.

“If you can create activities that enhance the chance for guests to have those encounters then you increase your chance of getting people to come to your hotel,” he said.

Examples from Warschawski included giving Phelps eight years of residence (one for each gold medal he earned during the Beijing Olympics) at the Hilton, a free membership to the hotel gym or free dinner reservations at Hilton’s upscale restaurant, Diamond Tavern.

“Just the thought that when you’re booking the hotel you may have a chance to run into Michael, that gives you a lot of media opportunities and it’s a selling point for the hotel,” Warschawski said.

How more likely would you be to book a room at a hotel where you have the off chance of seeing Michael Phelps, or any athlete? Is this an effective marketing tool?

LIZ FARMER, Business Writer