Michael Phelps is signing on as an investor and spokesperson with a Windsor Mill-based online shaving products company — a role reflecting the swimming superstar's interest in moving beyond traditional endorsement deals, his agent said Monday.
The deal with 800razors.com is among several new business partnerships being considered by Phelps 10 months before the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
"He'll likely add another partner or two," said Peter Carlisle, Phelps' agent. "We've got a few that we're in discussions with — serious discussions," said Carlisle, managing director for Olympics and action sports at Octagon, the sports agency.
Phelps' current endorsements include Under Armour, Omega, Master Spas, Sol Republic headphones and Aqua Sphere.
The new partnership is the first since the swimmer pleaded guilty to driving under the influence last December and received a one-year suspended sentence and 18 months of supervised probation. Phelps previously pleaded guilty to driving while impaired in 2004, when he was 19.
"I think Phelps is getting more and more marketable the closer we get to the 2016 Rio Games, and the further he distances himself from those DUIs," said Bob Dorfman, executive creative director of Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco.
The public can be "pretty forgiving," said Michele Tomlinson, vice president of Warschawski, the Baltimore-based marketing agency. "When it comes to Michael Phelps, it really depends on how people perceive his level of remorse."
Phelps began receiving treatment for alcohol abuse after the incident.
Under the Aqua Sphere deal, announced in August 2014, Phelps is involved in swim-product development and water-safety efforts. In the 800razors.com deal, he will have "a significant ownership," Carlisle said.
Those are the sorts of roles that Phelps, now 30 and training for his fifth Olympics, is interested in, Carlisle said.
"I don't see him entertaining a typical spokesperson role," he said. "That doesn't mean he will only do deals where he will have ownership. They will have to be opportunities that make sense on a variety of levels beyond just the financial — for example, if there is a legitimate and meaningful tie-in to his foundation."
Terms of the new deal were not disclosed. Other investors include former Apple CEO John Sculley, according to the company.
Philip Masiello, co-founder and CEO of 800razors.com, said Phelps' role will include television and online advertising.
Phelps was attracted to the company, in part, because it is locally owned and "Michael takes a lot of pride in Baltimore," Carlisle said.
Carlisle said the company's affiliation with Chimes, which provides job opportunities for people with disabilities, also was attractive to Phelps.
"He has the Phelps Foundation and supports the Special Olympics," Masiello said. "We have a relationship with Chimes."
Employees working with Chimes help package and prepare the shaving company's products for shipping at a warehouse in Windsor Mill.
Phelps is widely regarded as the greatest competitive swimmer in history. The Rodgers Forge native retired after winning his record 18th gold medal at the 2012 Olympics in London. But he began working out with coach Bob Bowman at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club in 2013 and is making a comeback.
Phelps' involvement with 800razors.com, which was founded in 2013, came after he sampled the American-made products, which include razors for men and women, shaving cream and after-shave moisturizer.
"I sent him some product six months ago," Masiello said. "He asked me for some more because his girlfriend took it."
He said the company projects to have 250,000 customers by the end of the year and is "trying to scale up very quickly."
Carlisle said shaving products are particularly important to swimmers because they shave most of their bodies to enhance their speed.
"Any swimmer will tell you," the agent said, "it's a ritualistic, superstitious, really important aspect to the whole competition."