Rare is the athlete in a sport not played with a stick or ball who can generate a major splash in the sports collecting arena but, appropriately it seems, a swimmer has done it.
66 million people watched Michael Phelps’ 7th gold medal swim across NBC’s various communications platforms on Friday night. More saw Saturday’s record-breaking performance. Phelps’ successful quest allowed him to cross a boundary which is usually pretty difficult for most who don’t toil in the four major sports. Get the hard core sports fan, the casual fan, the female fan and the young fan all to care–and want anything with your picture on it. Olympic memorabilia always gets a bump during the Games, but Phelps’ phenomenon is a little different.
The only comparison you can really make to Phelps’ impact is Tiger Woods, circa 1997. He went from a guy serious sports fans knew pretty well to an international smash in the span of a few days after blowing up the Masters and suddenly everyone wanted a Tiger Woods autograph and was willing to pay for it.
The number of Phelps items on eBay doubled in three days, to a still-growing 1,439 in the hours after his last race. One of ten Signature Supremacy promo cards issued at the 20th Hawaii Trade Conference last spring sold for over $1,000. The now-famous 2004 Leaf Rookies & Stars Phelps autographed card continues to climb. 14 of them sold for $500 or more with one bringing $799. 12 others had already reached $400 or more.
Will they be worth that in December? Not likely. Once the big event buzz subsides, things settle down. But I suspect Phelps will get his own major autograph deal–maybe even before he returns from China. Heck, it might be in place already. But those who think $500 on a Phelps autographed trading card is a good investment are probably going to be disappointed once the NFL kicks off and the baseball playoffs start.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see a battle royale for the rights to Phelps trading cards. The card companies will try to ride the wave for awhile. Maybe we’ll even see an all-Olympic set with Phelps the rest of team USA. Considering how much fun the Games have been, it would be a nice way to remember the other incredible athletes who shared the stage with the king of Beijing.