By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Bobby Savulich believes he knows what professional swimmers are looking for when they go to meets.
They want tough races, they don’t want to sit around for five hours between events and they want the opportunity to swim fast and earn some money.
With this in mind – and based on his own experiences as a post-graduate swimmer and meet organizer with the annual Eric Namesnik Grand Prix – Savulich is convinced he has what swimmers are looking for with the creation of the Pro Dual Meet he’s putting together next month in Ann Arbor.
The meet takes place Nov. 16-17 at 8pm at the University of Michigan's Canham Natatorium. Talks are already in the process for future stops to continue this professional swimming movement.
“I am really excited about this,” said Savulich, just a week removed from the Pan American Games. “Swimming has been calling for professional swimming for a number of years, and we are providing the answer.”
The Pro Dual Meet was something Savulich and several of his Club Wolverine teammates had talked about for some time but had never pursued.
This past summer, they took steps to initiate the process, and as a current competitive swimmer, Savulich had the connections and resources to reach out to other swimmers to get their take on the idea for a professional swimming league and if they would be interested in participating.
“This event is unique because it is coming from swimmers,” said Savulich, who is currently studying for his masters in Sport Management at Michigan. “The idea came from a bunch of us just causally talking about how great it would be for the sport to have a place where only professional swimmers could compete. The meet would have exciting music, lighting and an overall high-energy and fun atmosphere that lacks at most meets.
“At the University of Michigan, our coaches teach us to be proactive in making changes not only in our swimming but in our lives. Mike Bottom is always talking about using what we learned from swimming to change the world, so we decided to just go for it.”
If all goes as planned, Savulich is hoping Pro Dual 1 meet in Ann Arbor will be the kick off to many more. Right now, he is inviting all pros from around the country and will split them up into two teams (East versus West). In the future, he is planning to have swimmers compete as teams they train for, i.e. Club Wolverine Elite versus MAC Elite, etc.
Initial funding for the idea came from Wei Wu, the owner of the Pacific Industrial Development Corporation. Savulich said Wu believes in the project’s mission and that with more professional swimming, more money will be filtered into the sport.
“Swimming is a sport where financial support is sparse,” Savulich said. “This meet creates an opportunity for new businesses to get interested in swimming.”
Pro Dual is the first enterprise for Savulich’s company, Athletovation, which prides itself on being innovative and thinking outside of the box. The company focuses on introducing new ideas, products and techniques using real swimmers and coaches. Athletovation also has a platform where swimmers can submit video of themselves swimming to be critiqued by Olympic level athletes and coaches.
Savulich credits his teammates and coaches for their determination and creativity in getting professional swimming meets off the ground.
“I would like professional swimming to get on the map,’ Savulich said. “Kids dream about being professional basketball, football and baseball players. A professional swimmer is not something most people even know exists.
“With the increasing amount of post-graduate swimmers training, there is a need for a professional series of meets. We want kids to aspire to be professional swimmers, too.”
Savulich admitted this undertaking was a risky venture because they initially didn’t know who would want to compete. But with any new enterprise, he said they were willing to put themselves out there for something as revolutionary as Pro Dual.
“As soon as word got out, I received a ton of inquiries from Olympians and National Team members asking if they could be a part of the meet,” Savulich said. “Any prize money is great because 99 percent of meets in the United States do not have it. Professional swimmers work too hard not to be paid.
“The reason this meet is happening is because the swimmers are asking for it. They miss competing as a member of a team. Swim meets are difficult to be engaged in when fans have to watch 1,500 individuals competing for themselves. Pro Dual 1 will have 40-50 professionals and two teams dueling it out.”
The meets will focus on sprint events to keep things moving quickly and to keep the excitement levels high, Savulich said. This meant eliminating the mile, 800 free and 400 individual medley events while adding the 50s of stroke and short relays.
“We have an amazing line-up currently committed,” Savulich said. “It is constantly growing, too. I think that the ultra-superstars of the sport will participate if they want to see the growth of professional swimming continue. While we do have a purse (1st- $300, 2nd- $150, 3rd- $50), the meet is not about the money. It is about doing something progressive, creating new swimming fans and racing against the best.
“At the end of the season, the swimmers competing in this meet will have experience racing at the top level. It is invaluable experience a professional swimmer cannot gain from racing high school and college athletes.”
Tickets are $10 at the door. Opportunities will be provided for fans to mingle with the athletes before the meet, and the meet itself will be webcast live on Swimming World.
Savulich said they continue to look for interested sponsors, who can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Meet updates – including swimmer additions and more future meets, dates and locations -- can also be found on twitter @Athletovation and at www.ProSwimLeague.com.