Michael Phelps Signs Up As Subway Pitchman

Olympian Adds Country's Largest Fast Feeder to His Portfolio of Endorsements

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Michael Phelps is racking up endorsements like they're gold medals. The Olympian has inked a deal with Subway to represent the brand "across all marketing channels" in a campaign touting the chain's variety of offerings. Mr. Phelps also helps promote Kellogg, Visa, Speedo and Rosetta Stone.
The deal locks Mr. Phelps into an exclusive fast-food contract.
The deal locks Mr. Phelps into an exclusive fast-food contract. Credit: Stuart Ramson

The deal, which locks Mr. Phelps into an exclusive fast-food contract, is surprising because the swimmer openly campaigned for a relationship with McDonald's during the Summer Olympics in Beijing, where he won an unprecedented eight gold medals. But this isn't his first surprising endorsement. Mr. Phelps spurned General Mills' Wheaties in August for an exclusive cereal deal with Kellogg.

"We enjoyed a very positive working relationship with Michael, particularly at the Summer Games in Beijing," McDonald's spokeswoman Heidi Barker said in a statement. "As a top Olympics sponsor, we wish Michael and all the Olympics athletes the best in their future endeavors."

Subs for peak performance
"We knew Michael Phelps was a big fan of our sandwiches and we wanted to build on that with him to illustrate that Subway is a brand that can play a role in helping everyone -- from elite athletes to weekend joggers -- perform at their peak levels and make healthier, smarter choices about food, whatever the activity," Tony Pace, chief marketer for the Subway Franchisee Advertising Fund, said in a statement.

Subway's recent work has focused on its highly successful "five-dollar footlong" campaign. The chain, which is the nation's largest fast feeder, has relied heavily on pitchman Jared Fogle for the last decade. Over the years, when the chain's message strayed from Mr. Fogle, same-store sales suffered. But that hasn't been the case of late. Subway is a private company and does not report systemwide sales. But some markets have reported gains comfortably in the double-digit range this year, which are virtually unheard of, particularly for a chain of its size. McDonald's, for instance, wowed investors last month by reporting a third-quarter same-store sales increase of 5%.

'A champion food option'
The new campaign will highlight Subway as a destination for indulgent meals, such as a meatball sub, as well as healthy choices, such as grilled chicken on wheat. "Subway restaurants have always given me the options that I am looking for -- whether that's healthy sandwiches before a big meet or the tasty meatball sub that I treat myself with," Michael Phelps said in the company's release. "I was ready to take my Subway fandom to the next level -- I really think of Subway as a champion food option."

While Mr. Phelps is the new gold standard of athletic endorsements, Subway has already worked with heavy hitters such as Laila Ali, Tony Parker, Michael Strahan and Reggie Bush.
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