When I inked my first shoe deal in the summer of 2006, I believed I was stepping foot into the beautiful world of professional track and field, a world that I had been admiring from afar for years.
I assumed, naively, that we the athletes had a union that negotiated on our behalf, agents that always wanted what was best for us, and that the governing bodies did a fair job distributing revenue and keeping the sport clean. Ten years later I have come to realize that our sport lacks many of these things and, in reality, is not a professional sport at all. At best, the world of professional track and field is a largely corrupt, barely functioning, semi-professional sport.
But it need not be that way. My long-time mentor, friend, and business partner, Sam Lapray, and I believe that track and field is far too great for the treatment it currently receives from the governing bodies. We are aware that there are many problems with our sport; 2015 was particularly heinous in the amount of dirt that was uncovered. There are many changes that need to take place and, in our opinion, the most time sensitive one is the injustice that is currently taking place at the 2016 Olympic Trials for Track and Field. The #RunGumLawsuit is our way of addressing that injustice directly and immediately.
Currently, there are two types of "professional" track and field athletes: those with shoe/apparel contracts and those without. Both categories stand to benefit from the changes that we are fighting for. Please, allow me to explain.
Athletes without apparel contracts: The shoe/apparel manufacturers simply cannot sponsor everyone. However, there are thousands of other companies out there. Companies with massive marketing budgets that would certainly find value in professional T&F athletes if only they were given a chance to advertise on the athletes' competition attire. I'm willing to bet every single athlete knows of at least one company that would consider investing in them in exchange for a logo on their competition attire at the 2016 Olympic Trials.
Athletes with apparel contracts: I have seen many of these contracts. If yours is like mine, you have a clause in there that states you are not allowed to put any other logos on your competition attire. This may lead you to think that the #RunGumLawsuit does not pertain to you. Do you remember when you (or your agent) were shopping around your contract to the various shoe/apparel manufacturers? Now imagine that he or she were able to shop that deal around to ALL companies. Imagine how much bigger your current contract would be if companies like Audi, T-Mobile, Red Bull, etc.could have had the opportunity to bid on that space. Think that is crazy? Those companies are sponsoring athletes in many other sports, sports with a smaller audience than Track and Field.
Truly, the leadership of many companies understand the benefits that exist in using athlete ambassadors to help add value to their brands. However, without being able to use branded competition apparel (the way apparel manufacturers currently do), there is little incentive for them to form those relationships.
That is not just my opinion. Here are what several CEOs had to say on the subject:
Our business was founded and grown almost entirely by utilizing athletes as our primary marketing vehicles. The logo limitations set by Athletics governing bodies severely limit the exposure a company can gain from its partnered athletes, particularly during the time when the athletes media reach is at its peak. It makes the investment in athlete partnerships much tougher to justify and definitely limits what we are capable of doing. – Jesse Thomas, Picky Bars
Without question, partnering with athlete ambassadors is a win-win-win. It is a critical strategy to grow the sport, optimize the athlete's ability to compete, and it builds credibility and awareness to grow our brand. Without the ability to connect the athlete to our partnership through branded apparel, the benefit for all parties is diminished. – Kevin Rutherford, Nuun Hydration
If companies can’t freely bid on sponsorship opportunities, it’s bad for them and the athletes they might sponsor. It’s high time for the IOC to make the great leap out of the good old boys network of yesterday and level the playing field. -York Baur, Moxi Works
Sponsoring athletes or events can be a powerful way to raise brand awareness. However, without a logo present, it is very difficult to link the relationship back to the company. – Jeff Church, Suja JuiceThere are literally billions of advertising dollars out there, dollars that are unlikely to make it into your pockets due to the absurd and antiquated rules that are currently in place.
It is time we demand that the governing bodies stop making companies feel unwelcome to invest directly with the athletes. It is time we take back the advertising space that belongs to us and start getting paid a fair wage for our hard work!
Still don't quite understand the current sponsorship / advertising rules? Here is an infographic explaining how it currently works and our story of trying to level the playing field.