Ryan Lochte is a bigger star than Michael Phelps

by Callum Ng 78

July 20th, 2012 London 2012 Olympics, News

Since Beijing, Ryan Lochte has legitimately swum himself into the same stratosphere as Michael Phelps. Whether or not their rivalry is real, or by definition a rivalry at all, people are talking about Ryan and Michael as equals. But they’re not.

Lochte is currently the bigger star. He has been for some time. He is currently more accomplished, more recognizable and overall more interesting.

In a sport like swimming, we often measure athletes against each other in terms of their Olympic performances. It is the biggest stage. Of course, Michael has 10 more Olympic medals than Ryan. But that only means Phelps has a better Olympic history, not that he is better today. Swimming should be measured like more traditional professional sports, in snapshots, only as good as your last game. Before Wimbledon you could have argued that Roger Federer was the best of all time, but that Djokovic or Nadal were the best in the world. (Of course in the time since, Federer has put his name back in the latter category). With similar reasoning, I would argue that the most recent World Championships, where Ryan swam to 5 gold medals, including beating Phelps head to head in 2, makes him swimming’s world #1.

With the media explosion in the months leading up to London, Ryan Lochte has come out on top. Lochte has sizzled on magazine covers such as Vogue, Men’s Health and TIME Magazine. He is the US Olympic Team Ralph Lauren poster boy. He gets himself trending with hashtags like #Jeah and nicknames like Reezy. Michael has more followers, but that is changing pretty quickly. (Phelps also frequently uses the word ‘tweeps’ but that is content for another entire blog post). It is abundantly clear that Ryan Lochte is just more marketable. In fact, he is a sport sponsor’s dream. Charismatic, likable, cool and now…the best at what he does.

Not disrespecting perhaps the most dominant Olympic performance in history, Michael just doesn’t have the same star power. Sport is a business, especially the Olympics. The burning reason why Tiger still leads golf coverage or Beckham still fills stadiums is because they are stars, regardless whether the reasons are positive or negative. It definitely isn’t because they are the best. But Lochte is, which makes his trajectory steep.

Ryan Lochte will fill your television screen in a few days and charm the world. There is no question. The only doubt is whether or not Phelps can pull a Federer and remind the world how good he is.

Callum Ng, SwimSwam contributor, story-teller and entrepreneur.
www.callumng.com @CallumNg

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9 years ago

Completely disagree. I find the Lochte marketing campaign to be incredibly forced and kind of annoying. “Jeah!” is his trademark? Really? Phelps just seems to be more “real” and less gimmicky. I’m guessing many people will still be more strongly drawn to Phelps due to his superior Olympic History, despite what has happened in recent years.

Reply to  Sean
9 years ago

I completely agree with you.

Reply to  Sean
9 years ago

I agree with you about people still being drawn to Michael. I like Ryan he is fun and definitely has more personality and marketability but Michael still has my loyalty. I’ve never met Michael but I got to watch him make history and his dreams come true and watching Michael swim was exciting and captivating, as a result I feel bonded to him. And that is why I will root for him over Ryan. Ryan is a little full of himself and cocky which I’m not a fan of…Michael is more humble.

And why must the media do these types of stories? It’s like the Angelina Jennifer debate.

9 years ago

Nice try. I really like Lochte. But using the world “star” instead of “accomplished” was a big mistake in this piece. Lochte is more accomplished right now but Phelps is the best swimmer in the history of the sport. EVERYBODY knows who he is and loves what he’s done. Maybe this type of greatness is in the cards for Lochte but it has not happened yet. Again, nice try.

9 years ago

I don’t agree – swimming is so much different from sports like football or baseball, it can’t even compare. Ryan Lochte may be better currently, but from an overall point-of-view, no way! Michael Phelps has done what nobody has done before and won 8 gold medals in a single Olympic games. I feel that he will always be recognized as one of the best, or the best, in the entire history of swimming – and always a step ahead of Ryan Lochte.

9 years ago

I do agree with this article. Don’t get me wrong Phelps is an amazing athlete and has had one hell of a career, but as far as star quality Lochte has way more. He is at the to of his swimming game and as of right now swimmings biggest name. I don’t think the author of this article was saying that Ryan is better then Phelps, but that he has proved himself this past year and maybe is becoming a better swimmer then Phelps. As for his star power, he has that. Ryan is such a likable guy, he isn’t going to say something that isn’t true. He is up front and says what he wants regardless. Thas why people… Read more »

Reply to  Avery
8 years ago

I agree with you. Phelps is great, but I think Ryan is more marketable and a hell of a lot better looking, more charismatic, and a better sport than Phelps. Phelps hates to lose, but has shown better sportsmanship this Olympics because he claims it is his last and wants to go out on a high note. I respect his achievements and hopes he opens swimming clubs to teach others to do what he knows best. I do not know what other marketable skills he has so I cannot comment. Anyone can hate me for saying this, but as a woman, Phelps lisp, dumbo ears, unimpressive physique, and poor communication skills is a real turnoff. Ryan Lochte, on the other… Read more »

9 years ago

Yeah, I don’t agree either. Phelps has proven himself in every single situation he has ever needed to. Leading off the 400 free relay in 08, winning a 200 fly in 08 with filled goggles, destroying cavic in 09 after taking a long break from swimming. The fact that phelps can compete and win 100 meter races and 400 meter races says a lot. Lochte has a face that teenage girls go crazy for. That doesn’t make him a better star whatsoever.

9 years ago

Excuse me, Ryan more recognizable? I like him, he’s a great swimmer but if you ask any NON swimming fan outside USA who Ryan Lochte is they probably won’t know. But ask about Michael Phelps. The guy has fans all over the world. The magnitude of his achievement in Beijing made him the greatest swimmer of all time. Without mentioning the attention he brought to the sport of swimming.
I think your article is disrespectful to Phelps and I have to agree with the comment above: it was a nice try.

Reply to  QueenAl
9 years ago

Well said! Ryan who?

Reply to  QueenAl
9 years ago

Very valid point in my opinion. My sister had never even heard of him until that Vogue cover with Hope and Serena a few months back, now she is suddenly his biggest fan lol.

After this Olympics he will probably eclipse Michael but as of today he is not more noticeable outside the swimming world.

9 years ago

I feel this article is sort of right, but not completely. Lochte has done better with coverage, advertisement, and branding, but that is because his personality. I feel that he is probably someone who needed little media training because his personality is very charismatic. Lochte makes himself accessible to all his fans almost always, this is a huge draw for fans because he is willing to interact. Phelps on the other seems have gotten most if not all on his PR based on his swimming achievements and olympic medal hype. Phelps is a little more drawn back from his fans and is more likely to refuse an interview (I still think the amount interaction he does is amazing). I think… Read more »

Reply to  bbrswimmer
9 years ago

“Lochte has done better with coverage, advertisement, and branding, but that is because his personality.”

Yeah, and I actually think that’s the real key. Lochte has more the type of extroverted personality that attracts advertisers and media. Same type of thing might end of happening to Missy Franklin for the same reason.

Reply to  Kori
9 years ago

ummm Michael still has the more sponsors and without a doubt makes more money.

Reply to  LS
9 years ago

I do think there’s a possibility that Ryan can garner more marketing/branding success (not necessarily already HAS done, I should have clarified that in my response), because he 1) has more the type of personality that marketers and media look for and 2) could reach farther with his brand due to the explosion of social media in the last year or two, something that was still in its infancy during Beijing.

But that’s talking about potential and the future. In the reality of right now, Michael is the bigger and more recognizable star.

Reply to  LS
9 years ago

Actually, Lochte currently has more sponsers. 1 more.

9 years ago

Well written and well thought out article.I totally agree that Ryan has more marketability as he is a much more charming figure.He also knows his fans are important.At meets it is not unusual for him to pose for a picture with a fan as he heads to the blocks or sign an autograph for the umpteenth time during a meet, and be gracious about it.He also has a great sense of humor that many young people who aren’t even swimmers can relate to.He is very accessible to his fans.This is in stark contrast to someone who has his guards and keeps his head down and his head phones on to separate himself from the crowd.Yes Michael may have accomplished more… Read more »

Reply to  Inga
9 years ago

So athletes go to the Olympics to be… famous? Last I checked, this wasn’t a competition of how many fans you can gain, how many TV commercials you appear on, or how many magazines you grace. These men and women are there to prove their athleticism, determination, and perseverance. Obviously Lochte has shown that he has a lot of motivation and determination and he’s proved that he has been training… a lot. But we know Michael has done the same. And he has done it with grace and humbleness. Their reasons for wanting the “gold” are their own. Some do it to prove to everyone they are the best and bring recognition to themselves. Others instead of just focusing on… Read more »

About Callum Ng

Callum Ng is a Canadian story-teller, entrepreneur and sport leader. Callum has traveled across the world as a participant and promoter of recent sport events such as the IOC's WCSE 2011 and the Youth Olympic Games. As a former swimmer, Callum brings a unique angle to swimming coverage, capturing both …

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