Michael Phelps, the Olympic legend who this year alone took 8 personal gold medals back to the States from Beijing has apparently been besieged by as many as 50 endorsement proposals a day, according to media reports. And at least two of those came from poker related outfits.
The attention of poker promoters was grabbed after Phelps made an off-hand remark in an interview with a Baltimore reporter that it "...would be cool to play in the World Series of Poker". Phelps apparently plays poker for relaxation and entertainment, and according to one of the many stories that subsequently appeared, his play is generally well regarded by those who have encountered him at a casino in Windsor, Canada close to the US border.
The Asian Poker Tour (APT) was first to jump on the bandwagon, inviting the Olympic star to stop off on his way home and play in the currently running APT Macau, and offering to pick up the tab for his travel, hotel and buy-in.
The idea of adding the world swimming sensation to a player list for the main event that already included Doyle Brunson, Todd Brunson, J.C Tran, John Juanda, Kenny Tran, Nam Le, Quinn Do, Steve Sung, APT Manila champion David Saab and many others was ambitious but understandable. It would certainly have been a game to remember for those online poker players who won seats in the event at satellite tournaments at PartyPoker.com, Datapoker, Titan Poker, Bodog, JBetPoker, Virgin Poker and Poker Trillion.
In an open letter to Phelps (a little publicity can go a long way) ATP wrote: "Some have said you are a 'human dolphin' but we're keen to know if history's greatest swimmer is really a fish. You may have feet that can reach angles others cannot to give you the ultimate swimming technique but just you wait until you've got sharks like Vegas poker legend Doyle Brunson chasing you. We'll see how fast you really are then when they smell blood - get some flippers on those size 14's!"
This week it was Betfair Poker making a pitch, suggesting that the Olympic hero might like to also make himself a legend at the poker tables with a sponsored trip to London for the World Series of Poker Europe in September.
Betfair offered to pay the GBP 10 000 buy-in so he could have a crack at the guaranteed GBP 1 million prize-pool and a WSOP gold bracelet...at the same time heightening the profile of the championship. Again there was the play on the swimmer's achievements:
"Phelps will be free to wear his famous LZR swim suit at the table, although organizers fear it may not give him the same competitive edge outside of the pool," the poker site joked in a press release.
Our guess is that the line for Phelps's attention is a long one, with many opportunities for commercial endorsement deals worth tens of millions of dollars that require only his imprimatur and image.