Michael Phelps is sprawled on a couch in a Lower Manhattan hotel, sporting a beard, a gray beanie cap, a white T-shirt and Under Armour sweatpants and sneakers, an athlete in repose. He’s in New York to accept yet another lifetime achievement award for his triumphs in five Olympic Games, another chance for him and others to revel in his past glories. What Phelps wants to talk about now, however, is the future. “I’ve spent decades staring at that black line at the bottom of a pool,” he says. “I’m ready to do something new. I’m ready to channel my competitiveness into something else.”
Phelps, 31, is four months removed from what he swears was his last Olympics. The second phase of his life has begun, he says, and it has two main parts: He wants to create a brand that burns brightly for decades to come, but he also wants to become a global champion for the causes that mean the most to him—swimming and the wellbeing of children.
On the brand side Phelps is, of course, well established as a corporate pitchman. Under Armour, Omega, Intel, Activision and Beats by Dre are among his well-known sponsors. (Some of the lesser known: Master Spas, Krave and Sina Sports.) At the height of these sponsorships he earned an estimated $7 million a year. Many of the companies are longtime partners and plan to stay that way. “We hope he’s with us forever,” says Kevin Plank, CEO of Under Armour, which signed Phel