In this extremely rare opportunity to showcase the top athletes in our sport, USATF has shown a massive disparity in the way they treat NIKE vs non-NIKE athletes, a problem that goes far beyond this one video, and will keep expensive initiatives like this from making a real impact on the lives of athletes moving forward. But before I go into the why, here are a couple quick screenshot examples. Feel free to do your own homework.
Nike Athletes’ Talking Moments:
Zoomed out. No question who sponsors them. Plenty more examples like this. Not every single Nike athlete has an extremely prominent logo, but every single current non-Nike athlete is cropped out, obscured, or minimized.
Non-Nike Athletes’ Up Close Talking Moments
The action shots are even worse. With the exception of Jeremy Wariner in Adidas, you will be hard pressed to find a sporting moment with any other visible logo representation. USATF’s national team is sponsored by Nike, but what does that really entail? How far does it trickle down? Does it give them the right to brand all athletes with NIKE forever, without permission, without compensation? Does it give USATF the right to asphyxiate the sport, creating a sponsor ecosystem that keeps the majority of pros under the poverty line?
Do you know why Saucony sponsors Duane Solomon? Why New Balance sponsors Brenda Martinez? Hoka, Leo Manzano? So that they can get national and international exposure when these athletes are showcased, so they can align their brand in the public eye with the individuals they pay money to. When USATF spends all it’s marketing dollars showcasing only NIKE athletes in a meaningful way this is what happens:
The sponsors go away.
Sponsors give smaller salaries on average to reflect limited return.
Without competing offers from other brands, Nike deals shrink too.
THE WHOLE SPORT SHRINKS.
This isn’t a Nike athlete vs non-nike athlete thing. It’s a sport problem.
So while it’s awesome we have a cool commercial on NBC, (was it an MSI project like Road to Sopot? I’m curious,) we need more than good production value to save us. We need a neutral governing body that provides a seat at the table for everyone. That showcases athletes across all brands and shows respect and appreciation to the companies keeping food on their table. If USATF can’t afford to operate this way, then they don’t deserve to operate.
USATF selling the national team uniform is one thing. But what else have they sold? Serious question. Email me if you know.
A USATF Calendar was recently mailed out to all USATF members. Included in it was a photo of Leo Monzano (HOKA ONE ONE) in a USA Nike uniform rather than his sponsor’s uniform. He was not asked permission nor compensated for a photo being used that undercut his sponsor relationship. When Jenny Simpson (New Balance) won female athlete of the year, what photo was circulated by USATF? An old photo in a Nike uniform. When someone google’s an athlete’s name, their USATF bio is often the first hit. Look at Leo’s bio on USATF.org. Look at Emma Coburn’s. Bios are maintained by a paid employee of USATF. If Alysia Montano and I hadn’t made a formal complaint, ours would still be up in Nike too. These are just a few examples of a systemic problem that has to be addressed.
USATF has their salaries guaranteed for the next 23 years. We don’t. And if USATF is entering into sponsorship contracts that demand they shrink us, crop us, silence us, prevent us from thriving, and stifle competition in the marketplace, that isn’t right. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s illegal.
Note: The views in this article are my own. Others have perfectly valid opinions that differ from mine, including Brenda Martinez. Read her’s here. My understanding is that no athletes were paid to be in this commercial , they were all wearing their sponsors gear, and they were not made aware that their logos would be cropped before the ad was released. If anyone has information that is different from that, feel free to clarify in the comments below.