Dreamfuel, a crowd-funding website for professional athletes, launches today with an early lineup that includes U.S. National Champion Christine Jennings and World Championships silver medalist David Plummer.
The idea is the brainchild of Emily White, founder and CEO of Whitesmith entertainment and agent for U.S. Olympian Anthony Ervin. Shortly after the London Olympics, Ervin met with White to discuss the problem that’s plagued nearly every elite swimmer not named “Phelps” or “Lochte” – how can I support myself financially while continuing to chase my dreams as a professional swimmer?
“Athletes, particularly in Olympic sports have a financial need, that is for sure, with 85% of Olympic hopefuls earning less than $15,000 USD / year,” White wrote in a blog post explaining Dreamfuel’s mission. Between the time dedicated to training at the highest level and costs for food, equipment, and travel to competitions, chasing Olympic dreams can be a financial nightmare even for swimmers as well-established as Ervin, Jennings and Plummer.
“People can be the best in the world at what they do and still not make a living,” said Plummer, who at 28 years old just became a father in addition to one of the world’s best backstrokers.
Back to the post-2012 Olympics: White and Ervin initially tried to set up a Kickstarter campaign to encourage fans to help fund Ervin’s swimming career, only to be denied by the platform itself – apparently Kickstarter works exclusively in arts and technologies. You can read more about the origins of the website in White’s explanatory blog post here, but the ultimate outcome was that White and Ervin went it alone, marketing directly to fans and using donated money to fund Ervin’s swimming expenses and even funneled extra donations into a number of charities. The success of the project inspired White to start her own program for other athletes to crowd-source funding – Dreamfuel.
Dreamfuel offers short profiles of each athlete, and offers fans an opportunity to support that athlete with donations, much like Kickstarter. The site shows breakdowns of training costs for athletes, fund-raising goals, plus names and descriptions of charities where extra money beyond the goal will be partially donated. White and company also help produce marketing materials to help fans learn about the athletes, like the above video about Plummer’s journey.
Though the site isn’t limited to just swimmers, it has a very close connection with the sport. White herself was a Division I swimmer at Northeastern University, and two of the six athletes campaigning on the site on opening day are swimmers.
For Jennings and Plummer, the platform is providing another shot at Olympic dreams that hit adversity for both swimmers in 2012. Jennings broke her leg while training in the lead-up to the trials, severely damaging her goal of qualifying for the open water event in London, while Plummer finished just .12 seconds out of an Olympic bid in the loaded men’s 100 backstroke race.
Dreamfuel also aims to help its athletes learn how to promote themselves. “We’re excited to get off the ground and start helping athletes,” White told SwimSwam in an e-mail, “not only financially, but teaching them marketing skills and ways to connect with their audience that will help to make their careers more robust while adding longevity at the same time.”
If the Dreamfuel platform catches on, it should theoretically lead to a faster swimming community from the highest level downward by giving athletes who develop later in their careers a chance to continue swimming if they desire, instead of being financially forced to hang up the cap and goggles upon graduating out of collegiate swimming.
Plummer is a good example of one of those late-blooming guys who can provide a big boost to a national team into his late 20s, but are also at risk to slip through the cracks financially in the years leading up to an Olympic trial. Plummer was a talented swimmer on the rise during four years at the University of Minnesota, but didn’t really hit his stride until his mid-20s, winning his first national title at age 24 and finishing third at the 2012 Olympic Trials at 26. This past summer, at 27, he broke the U.S. Open record in the 50 back and upset Matt Grevers for a national title in the 100 back. Now the 28-year-old is turning to Dreamfuel to help him reach the Olympic dreams he was just a split-second away from last year.
“Every four years the Olympic team seems to get a little older,” Plummer noted. “The same guys who make it are the ones who can stick around and train for it again. It can be hard to market yourself when you don’t have that kind of publicity yet.”
And in a sport where sponsorships and substantial monetary prizes have typically been limited to the very elite few, a program like Dreamfuel offers support to lesser-known athletes on their way to becoming household names.
“Right now there’s a bit of a divide between people who are really fast at a young age and people who continue to improve through and beyond college,” Plummer said. “People who peak later have a lot less options.”
With Dreamfuel now in the picture, at least they’ll have one more.