Phelps ranks behind only Tim Tebow, a quarterback without a team, and ahead of sprinter Usain Bolt.
While Tebow may be an example of marketing mattering more than on-field performance, Phelps and Bolt seem to be the product of Olympic greatness being paired with forward-thinking promotion.
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I caught up with Phelps' long-time agent, Peter Carlisle, last week to talk about his plans for jockey Rosie Napravnik, a new client he picked up on advice from people in Phelps' Baltimore orbit. He's basically put Napravnik, the 25-year-old who began her riding career in Baltimore, on the Phelps plan. He's trying to sign deals now that will help her tell her story now, so that when she wins the Kentucky Derby she will already have something of a national profile.
Ultimately, Carlisle works to make athletes from more obscure or only intermittently popular sports resonate with fans (and consumers) so that eventually they can become ambassadors for their sports. It has certainly worked for Phelps.
Napravnik could return to Baltimore for the May 18 Preakness aboard Mylute, the fifth-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby.
To track the ever-shifting Preakness field, head over to Preakness Insider.