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"Athletes" Come in all Shapes and SizesWhen you think about swimmers, does the word “athlete” come to your mind? 

Well from my experience, swimmers are often seen, much like the cheerleaders and rhythmic gymnasts, as participants in things that are not actually sports. I think this is a common misconception because people don’t understand how hard swimming can actually be.

I saw this first hand in my first year as a college athlete. I met a lot of athletes on campus at orientation my first day on campus. I made introductions and told everyone I was on the swim team. One soccer player came up to my and asked me, “What do you guys do for practice? Do you just play around in the pool? I love doing that over the summer at public pools,”

I didn’t know how to respond to this at first. I wanted to say a sarcastic remark and walk away, but instead I replied, “No actually we swim for 4 hours a day and do about 7,000 yards each practice. I swim the IM events, so I swim every stroke at every practice. It is really hard but rewarding at the same time.”

The soccer player then said, “I had no idea how much work went into swimming. You guys are real athletes.”

This conversation made me see, for the first time, how other athletes saw swimmers, and it wasn’t how I wanted to be seen at all. I thought about how to change this perception, and came up with a few ways. Since I am a marketing major I though about how with a little marketing magic, this false perceptions could disappear.

Three ways marketing can rectify the “non-athletic” reputation swimmers have:

  1. Publicity: USA swimming is the national swimming league, much like the NFL and the NBA. If some swimming highlights were featured on ESPN’s Sport Center Top 10 maybe more people would be willing to give the sport a chance. After all swimming can have some exciting moments, as I illustrated in my last blog post. Its not all rubber duckies and inner tubes!
  2. Nationally Recognized Sponsorships of Swim Meets: The only swim meet that is really is publicized on national TV, and sponsored by a company that is known around the world, is the Olympic Games. If swim meets, especially the ones that have Olympic gold medalists participating, could get nationally recognized companies to sponsor them, like Gatorade or Sports Authority for example, maybe they could get more sports channels to televise these events. This could increase the reach of swimming to the people who normally watch these sports networks. Who knows, maybe they will find these swim meets more interesting then football games!
  3. More Spokespeople: As of right now, the only brands that feature professional swimmers is Speedo; oh, and Michael Phelps is sometimes in Subway commercials. If you count the number of NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL players that are the spokespeople for various brands, you will get a headache from doing so much math. If more professional swimmers were featured as the spokespeople for these large brands, the reach of swimming will increase exponentially. Why can’t Ryan Lochte be the next Fruit of the Loom guy? Move over Michael Jordan, Ryan Lochte looks just as good shirtless!

Call-to-Action: 

The next time you come across an athlete that participates in a sport that you don’t understand, before you judge it, get to know the sport. Stop and think what a little marketing could do to take it to the next level. Who knows, one day swimming could have an event that has companies paying millions of dollars for a 30 second commercial just like the Super Bowl.

Image Credit: photo by tom@hk on Flickr

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