STOCKHOLM, (Reuters) – The fastest man in the world stares at a blank piece of paper for a few seconds and, finding no inspiration, turns to his manager.
“Rick, what should I write?”
Ricky Simms, the director of PACE Sports Management who manages Usain Bolt, gives a look of mock disdain.
Bolt had been asked to write a greeting to the people of South Korea ahead of the Daegu world championships starting this month. Finding the right words is apparently not covered in Simms’ contract.
It is one of the few details not looked after by Simms, his coaches and his staff, who choose which events Bolt attends to maximise his success on the track and his outside earnings.
Smiling as he surveyed the media scrum surrounding his client on the eve of last Friday’s Stockholm Diamond League meeting, Simms explained how he helped plan Bolt’s season.
He said although he offered suggestions, it was Bolt’s coaches who ultimately decided where and when the 24-year-old Jamaican ran.
“We work together on it in November of each year and present it to him in January or February. He trusts his coaches to make those decisions, he’s an easy guy to work with,” said Simms, who is a qualified coach and a former middle distance runner.
As soon as Bolt’s participation in Stockholm was announced, local media began speculating wildly about his purse. Simms, though, will give no financial details about the man who was the sensation of the 2008 Beijing Olympics when he won three gold medals in world record times.
“I see a lot of figures quoted, but what he makes at each meeting is confidential,” Simms said. “He’s the biggest athlete ever.
“What he brings to a meet in terms of media attention? I think in Rome there were 20,000 more fans in the stadium because he was there. It’s hard to put a value on it — maybe he’s worth double what he gets paid.”
FIFTY PERCENT TAX
In 2010, the year after Bolt shattered his own 100 and 200 metres records at the Berlin world championships, he pulled out of the Diamond League meeting at Crystal Palace due to British tax laws. Bolt would have had to pay 50 percent of his appearance fee in tax, plus further tax on a portion of his global sponsorship income.
Stockholm tournament director Rajne Soderberg told Reuters Bolt would pay only 15 percent of his purse in a so-called “artist tax” for his appearance in Sweden, even though the Scandinavian country has a reputation for crippling taxes.
Like Simms, Soderberg also declined to discuss what Bolt was to be paid.
“He is the big seller of athletics, there is no one who comes close in terms of the interest he generates,” he told Reuters. “We saw a clear difference in ticket sales when we announced that he would be taking part.
Soderberg does not just measure Bolt’s value in ticket sales.
The annual DN Galan is hugely popular in Sweden and sells out regularly but, Soderburg said, Bolt’s presence brought an extra dimension for sponsors.
“The value comes next year and the year after, the meet he is at creates a certain level, and then everyone else feels that they have to be there too,” he said.
Perhaps mindful of how much it costs to bring Bolt to Stockholm, Soderberg makes sure to get maximum exposure from his participation for both the tournament and the sponsors.
A news release about hiring a Jamaican cook to cater for Bolt generated huge coverage locally and, when Bolt arrived at the airport, there was no limousine waiting.
Instead, Bolt told the waiting reporters he would take the Arlanda Express train, one of the tournament sponsors, to the city like any other regular traveller.
But even though he brokers deals like the one agreed with Soderberg to bring Bolt to Sweden for a third time and makes sure his client is well briefed, Simms does not see himself as a wheeler-dealing sports agent in the traditional sense.
“In athletics, an agent is more like a management company. I use Manchester United as an example, I do what Alex Ferguson does for the players. It’s different to football agents, which is more doing deals. We do all the concierge-type stuff. We do everything.”
Judging by the still-blank piece of paper in Bolt’s hand, maybe “everything” is stretching the point. But there is no doubt that Bolt is relaxed in Simms’ presence, calm in the knowledge that everything is being taken care of.
On Friday, Bolt recorded his first win on Swedish soil at his third attempt, cruising to victory over the 200 in 20.03 seconds on a blustery night at the Olympic stadium. In his two previous appearances he had lost to compatriot Asafa Powell and American Tyson Gay over the 100.
Soderberg said he was aiming to bring Bolt back to Stockholm for a fourth time next year and would be asking for more money from the sponsors.
“Yes, we can do that,” he said. “It will be more attractive to be a part of it. It will be worth more. I can’t say how much more, but he’s worth the money.”