Michael Phelps' eight gold medals could be worth eight figures in endorsements and earnings, experts say.
"If he's handled properly over the next four years, he should generate in excess of $40 million," said Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp Ltd., a Chicago-based sports business consulting firm.
The 23-year-old swimming champ from Baltimore had already made a splash before the Beijing Olympics, with $5 million in endorsements from advertising sponsors.
His come-from-behind, split-second win in Friday's 100-meter butterfly race - which tied Mark Spitz's 1972 record of seven gold medals in a single Olympics - got him a $1 million bonus from swimsuit maker Speedo.
But after collecting his historic eighth gold on Saturday night, marketing execs say Phelps has raced into the ranks of other sports stars with huge marketing contracts, like Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan.
The feat drew a congratulatory phone call from President Bush yesterday.
"Laura and I are proud of you, our family is proud of you, but most importantly, America is proud of you," Bush said.
Phelps "benefits from a celebrity-driven culture, a need for advertisers to raise themselves out of the clutter and the warm feelings that the American public has for him," Ganis said. "Phelps' image is a perfect match for companies which want to align their brand with great success."
Madison Avenue experts said Phelps - with his aw-shucks demeanor and humble Baltimore roots - is an ideal icon who could easily sell products ranging from food - he eats 12,000 calories a day, mostly pasta and pizza when training - to cars, clothes and shaving cream.
A $1 million memoir is already being peddled to publishers, according to reports.
"He represents health and fitness, two hot buttons in America right now, along with 20 other categories I can think of," said Brandon Steiner, CEO of Steiner Sports Marketing in New York.
Howard Freeman, president and CEO of New Jersey-based marketing firm Promo 1, agreed: "Phelps will reap the biggest financial reward from water since 'Jaws.'"
Ryan Schinman, president of New York-based Platinum Rye Entertainment, the largest buyer of talent for Fortune 500 companies, predicted Phelps will be the first swimmer to earn eight figures.
"He has put himself in another stratosphere," said Schinman. "I can even see a global deal, someone in the Persian Gulf, like in Dubai, naming a new swimming facility for him."
Phelps' big challenge is that the Olympic offseason lasts four years and his handlers must strike while the iron is hot. Phelps has said he will compete in the 2012 Olympics in London.
"His athletic feats put him in a rare position to dominate in the world of sports marketing, but he will have to work hard in the next few years to make sure his presence outside the pool is as compelling as that in the pool," said David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Group in Southern California.