Money Talks

1219332684Every Thursday, Francis Storrs will take you inside the corridors of high-stakes finance and dealmaking. This week: Local businesses are making a killing on the Olympics.

I’ve heard this Michael Phelps guy is pretty fun to watch. I’ve heard this from my female friends in particular.

I can’t say I know for sure because my cable company, RCN, decided last week would be a good time to switch from broadcasting analog to all digital. It’s left me and my antique television with nothing but 60-odd channels of snow (and at a bargain price of $60 a month!) I hope to get the convertor box the company’s been promising to send to customers before the closing ceremonies, or at least before the Winter Olympics.

My Internet connection still works just fine, though, so I can say the Olympics have proven great for business. NBC has done better than anyone expected, attracting more eyeballs than the next 12 networks combined. More viewers watched Phelps’ last race than have tuned into the network on a Saturday since an episode of the Golden Girls aired eighteen years ago—seriously.

Athletes are making a killing, too: Phelps is looking to blow a piece of the $1 million bonus he got from Speedo on a Maserati or an Aston Martin. Fellow swimmer Dara Torres, meanwhile, is being eyed as a potential runway model for fashion designer Charles Nolan.

It hasn’t taken long for athletes’ good news abroad to translate into good news here at home. The biggest winner might prove to be Brestyan’s American Gymnastics Club in Burlington, best known as the training grounds for Winchester’s silver-medalist Alicia Sacramone.

The club’s classes usually don’t fill up until a week after the season opens in September. Not this year. “We’re almost at full capacity already,” says office manager Eva Minichiello, who signed up 70 new budding gymnasts just last week (and that’s with no additional advertising). “I couldn’t keep up with the number of calls and the people walking in off the street,” Minichiello says. “People are flocking in from everywhere.”

The historic run of Misty May-Treanor and Kerry Walsh, the volleyball duo who won gold in fine form today, has led to a bump in enthusiasm at the Boston Ski & Sports Club, which runs both indoor and outdoor tournaments.

“Even when you can’t do the spikes, everyone who plays knows what it takes and its amazingly ridiculous that they do it,” says the BSSC’s volleyball program manager Laura Nelson. “It gets the players we have pysched up to go out and play more.” It also makes them want to spend more: The City Sports on Comm. Ave. has nearly sold out of volleyballs.

Then there’s Michael Phelps. His prowess as a marketing tool has led to the coining of a new term—The Phelps Effect—and its ripples have already reached our shores. Just ask the YMCA.

“Especially with Michael Phelps, the Olympics is putting a real resurgence into swimming,” says Susan Miranian, who runs the aquatics program at the Huntington Ave. Y. Lessons start on Sept. 6, but they’re filling up fast. It’s safe to say that wouldn’t be the case if the Y required its swimmers to suit up like Phelps. “A swimsuit is required, but the choice of swimsuit is up to the participant,” Miranian says, laughing. “A thong might be objected to.”

And that, in fact, might just signal the limit of the Phelps Effect. He’ll sell plenty of breakfast cereal and Omega watches, sure, but don’t expect his golden touch to be getting Bostonians into skimpy Speedos. “Yeah,” says an employee at City Sports. “There hasn’t been a big run on them.”