Here We Go Again: USA Swimming Releases Revised Athlete Partnership Plan

The Athlete Parentership Agreement has caused a ton of controversy and animosity within the swimming community, and some have even speculated that it might have been a major factor in the firing of USA Swimming head coach Mark Schubert.

Now, USA-Swimming has finally released it’s revised Athlete Partnership Agreement that attacks some of the issues that many athletes and their advocates were concerned about. The plan was originally announced by USA-Swimming Chief Chuck Wielgus to be ready at the end of September, and it’s not clear why the release was delayed so long, though my assumption was to ensure a more thorough private review to avoid the PR backlash they received last time. This new plan includes adding a great deal of specificity to what will be expected of those who accept the additional stipend money.

Swimming World has posted the full copies of the APA and APA Policy Manual on their website:

Athlete Partnership Agreement

APA Policy Manual

All National Team members are still eligible for the $21,000 annual stipend that swimmers have been receiving. The criteria for receiving that $21,000 are as follows:

  • Are 18 years of age and older;
  • Have exhausted or given up their NCAA eligibility;
  • Have been named to the 2010-2011 USA Swimming National Team; and
  • Have satisfied one of the following:
  • A. Are ranked in the Top 16 in the world in an Olympic event (pool) based on the September 7, 2010 world rankings, or
  • B. Finished in the Top 16 at 2010 Open Water 10K World Championships (open water).

USA-Swimming will extend that initial stipend to as many as 56 athletes who are on the National Team. This 56 includes no more than 26 male pool swimmers, 26 female pool swimmers, 2 male open water swimmers, and 2 female open water swimmers. There are currently 94 swimmers on the US National Team, though by my count, 32 of them are currently ineligible for the stipend due to age or eligibility issues. This leaves only 6 National Team members off of the payroll (though there may be an allowance for swimmers like Phelps and Lochte who make more than enough outside of the pool to pass their stipend for another swimmer). This doesn’t include any athletes who weren’t in the top 16 in an Olympic event as of the September 7th deadline.

The 56 athletes who will receive the stipend are determined by the swimmer with the highest world ranking in an individual event, with ties being broken by rankings in a secondary event.

That’s all well and good, but that was not the part that caused the issues. In order to increase that stipend to $36,000 (much lower than the $51,000 number bandied about over summer), however, swimmers must perform a series of promotional duties for USA-Swimming. For the most part, these are positive changes that will help the sport grow.

For example, in order to receive the additional money, swimmers will have to submit a seasonal plan of when and where they plan to compete. This will help fans of the events get a much better idea of who will competing prior to booking travel and ticket arrangements to attend meets.

Swimmers who plan to cash in on the expanded plan will also have to commit to one of the major meets of the season: The USA Swimming National Championships, the FINA World Championships, or the World University Games. This should not come as much of a surprise, as effectively every USA-Swimming National Team member competes in one of these events. This clause basically acts as a safeguard to prevent athletes from taking the money and then disappearing. The more notable meet requirement will force swimmers to compete in at least two days of no fewer than 3 events in the USA-Swimming Grand Prix series.

Three events was not chosen by accident. The two series-ending meets, the Charlotte UltraSwim Grand Prix and the Santa Clara International Grand Prix, usually draw the biggest star-power. Charlotte because it has the biggest prize money, and Santa Clara because it attracts international competition and serves as a final tuneup before the World Championships. Requiring a third event, however, will likely bring increased buzz and publicity to the other Grand Prix events (this year- Minnesota, Missouri, Austin, Indianapolis, and Michigan) that are located more regionally and are more accessible to the average USA-Swimmer and swim fan.

National Team members receiving the extra money will also be required to give USA-Swimming image rights.

Use of Image. Athlete grants to USA Swimming the right and license, throughout the world, in any and all forms of media currently existing or created during the Term, to use, reproduce, adapt, publicly distribute, perform, display, broadcast, acquire, activate, retain, and transmit the Athlete’s name, nickname, initials, autograph, facsimile signature, voice, biography, performance, video and/or film portrayals, photograph and/or electronic likeness and image and/or facsimile image of Athlete in connection with those appearances for USA Swimming described in Section 3(g) below and in the Manual, as mutually approved by USA Swimming and Athlete. USA Swimming may not use Athlete’s image in a manner that creates or implies an endorsement of a commercial product or service without Athlete’s prior consent.

As you can see from the above paragraph, directly quoted from the APA, USA-Swimming has pretty broad-sweeping control over what they do with an athlete’s image. The last sentence is the most important, and will probably assuage most of the fears that athletes had about the original APA, by stating specifically that the athlete’s image will not imply endorsement of a product or service. This will help prevent the dilution of the athlete’s image and thus make it less attractive to swimsuit manufacturers or other companies wishing to sign the swimmers to individual endorsement deals.

Athletes will also be required to participate in a reasonable amount of USA-Swimming photoshoots, and participate in two yearly promotional events for free. Clarifications to the nature of the promotional event include choosing from a list of events provided by USA-Swimming or any other philanthropic event. Tim Leibhold, a former swimmer, gave an example of Eric Shanteau participating in a Livestrong event (an organization he is heavily involved with as a cancer survivor). The full list of events can be seen at the end of the APA Policy Manual listed above, but any events not specifically listed must meet the following “guiding principles” to comply.

  • Support the values and mission of USA Swimming
  • Encourage kids to take up swimming as a healthy and positive activity
  • Directly promotes swimming and the healthy lifestyle that the sport represents
  • Provide the best opportunity to attract positive media attention (ex. traditional or social)
  • Be a positive representative of our sport
  • Athlete is a key focus of the promotional activity
  • Athlete has not already been compensated or otherwise obligated to perform the Appearance
  • Support the values and mission of USA Swimming
  • Encourage kids to take up swimming as a healthy and positive activity
  • Directly promotes swimming and the healthy lifestyle that the sport represents
  • Provide the best opportunity to attract positive media attention (ex. traditional or social)
  • Be a positive representative of our sport
  • Athlete is a key focus of the promotional activity
  • Athlete has not already been compensated or otherwise obligated to perform the Appearance

In otherwords, it must be legitimate, it must help people, it must be positive, and court-ordered community service doesn’t count.

Along with these events, USA-Swimming will spend money and effort on making sure that the swimmer’s participation is well known, so in this sense, the promotion will aide in a swimmer’s marketability to outside organizations like Speedo, TYR, or Arena.

They also must provide 25 autographs on non-sponsor-branded items for auctions, thank-you gifts, etc.

The most comical provisions, to me, are the modern clauses involving social networking. Swimmers are required to promote USA-Swimming on their personal websites, which most of them have now, as well as “list USA Swimming as a friend” on Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media sites that may develop. Yes, the APA specifically lists Twitter and Facebook, and uses the term “Friend.”

I will be most interested to see the reaction to the new plan, and whether or not the specificity will satisfy the concerns. I’m sure the initial reactions will relate to the big reduction in salary, but this plan is certainly a start. If it proves successful, it’s possible that these dollar amounts, or the number of included athletes, could expand down the road. The full policy and plan are really an interesting read, so if you’re so inclined, please read them and let us know what you think.

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About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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