With help and support from many people, I’ve put forth a Resolution for the USATF Annual Meeting on behalf of the AAC that is designed to tackle a simple problem faced by professional track and field athletes (and athletes from other Olympic sports): the ability to monetize the greatest moments of their career on the biggest stages. It will be presented at the closing session Sunday morning for a vote. Here’s what it’s about.

From the moment an athlete comes out of college to go pro, they face a depressed marketplace with very few sponsorship opportunities. The fact is, all track and field athletes have already had the marketing rights to all their future moments on the world’s biggest stages sold before they left college; Nike purchased the rights to all athletes’ bodies wherever a Team USA Uniform is worn for the next 23 years: The Olympics, World Championships, Pan American Championships, Continental Cups, World Relays, NACACs, Ekiden Relays, Penn Relays, random relays added into Diamond League races…and the list keeps growing. All the biggest stages with the most eyes watching.

Now look at the Olympics for example, the pinnacle of our sport and the one time people really pay attention, and you see that every entity involved (except the athlete) has the ability to monetize the performances by selling ad space and marketing rights.

  • The IOC packages the entire Olympic experience and ideals, for all nations, and sells the rights to “Official Sponsor of the Olympic Games.”
  • The USOC (and analogous international organizations) packages all the Team USA sports together and sells the rights to “Official sponsor of the US Olympic Team.”
  • IAAF packages all Track and Field events together and sells the rights to “Official sponsor of IAAF.”
  • USATF (and analogous international federations) packages all the athletes from one sport in one nation together and sells the rights to “Official sponsor of USATF.”

Now you, the athlete, are standing on the track about to start the 800m, in front of a huge stadium, on national and international broadcasts, and someone has sold the branded signs behind you, the branded race bib on your chest, the commercials that surround your performance, and the clothes on your body. You are the show, and you produce all the moments that make the Olympics such a valuable product.  And yet, you are the only person in the equation who doesn’t have any logo space to monetize for yourself.

This is absurd.

How can this be? It is by design of course, increasing the value of the sponsorships the various entities can sell for themselves. Of which, little to none of the cash goes directly to the athlete. IAAF has a rule that says your uniform can only have one logo on one side, and your country’s flag on the other. This has resulted in National Federations selling exclusive contracts to Nike (USA, UK), Adidas (Ethiopia), Puma (Jamaica), etc. How much of that money gets to athletes varies widely by nation, but in the USA it is not nearly enough.

Athletes must have space of our own to monetize on all of the biggest stages. And until we do, we will always be barely fighting for survival.

Economics of Athlete Sponsorship

When you graduate college and go pro, you shop yourself around to potential sponsors. These companies assess your market value based on what their opportunities are to get a return on their investment. The problem is, with all your biggest moments already sold to Nike by USATF, you don’t have much to offer.

The better you get, the more times you wear the USA uniform, and the more times you appear to the world and the casual fan as a Nike athlete. The images from your biggest career moments will be circulated around forever, and used in USATF marketing programs, with no need for your permission. If you aren’t Nike, why would you invest significantly in the sport of track and field? And even if you are Nike, you are going to pay the least amount you can to sign people, and without competing offers, market rates are frighteningly low.

Changing the IAAF Uniform rules to allow athletes space of their own to monetize as they see fit will completely change the game. That same college grad now has a space to offer Oiselle or Brooks throughout their career progression, making it worthwhile to invest in them for the 4-6 years it will take them to reach their prime. Brands that used to invest in the sport will come back. The athlete who wants to sign with Nike will get a higher salary due to competing bids. The top Nike medalists will have space to sell to Visa, or Google. Non-endemic sponsors will find a pathway to deeper investments in the sport through relationships with athletes. The healthier and more diverse the ecosystem of sponsors are in our sport, the more opportunities there will be not just for athletes, but for race organizers, trade shows, and sports services.

Conclusion

The sport of track and field has plenty of economic woes, but restricting the athletes’ ability to monetize their performances is no longer an acceptable solution. The way forward for athletes’ economic viability requires three things:

  1. Rules restricting an athlete’s ability to give exposure to their sponsors must be changed.
  2. Money made by the various entities by selling TV and advertising rights to our performances must be shared with athletes fairly.
  3. Athletes must have a seat at the table and a voice any time their marketing assets are being sold by anyone else.

This resolution is designed to address #1 in the simplest and most logical way possible. It instructs our IAAF Chair to use all power and influence available to rally a change in IAAF uniform rules, allowing athletes to have space of their own to monetize as they see fit. If it passes, it will still be a long road before we see the results, with lots of unknowns and work to be done, but it will be an incredible first step.

Below is the resolution in full, along with one example of Proposed Uniform Guideline Changes (in red) with three examples chosen to illustrate different potential benefits. Athletes are for demonstrative purposes only and does not indicate their personal endorsement of this resolution. 

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

__________________________________________________________

Resolution for Pursuit of IAAF Uniform Rule Changes:

 

Whereas current IAAF rules and regulations permit athletes to wear one manufacturer’s logo and only one sponsor logo in Diamond League meets, in other International Competitions categorized by the IAAF as part of the global structure and approved by the IAAF Council, and in any other International Invitation Meeting where appearance fees and prizes exceed $50,000 or $8,000 for any one event; and

Whereas current IAAF rules and regulations do not permit athletes to wear the logos of individual sponsors on their national-team uniforms in national-team competitions; and

Whereas the current IAAF Advertising Regulations result in National Federations entering into sponsorship contracts that are exclusive to one sponsor, which limit competition in ways that harm the earning potential of athletes and decrease overall sponsor interest in Athletics as a whole; and

Whereas, the creation and expansion of athletes’ opportunities to wear the logos of individual sponsors would:

1. Give all athletes from all nations an opportunity to monetize their performances on the biggest stages, which currently every other involved entity can do except the athletes themselves;

2. Increase competition for athlete sponsorship, driving up the baseline for athletes’ earnings.

3. Generate and fuel a healthy ecosystem of diverse sponsors in Athletics.

4. Attract new money for Athletics overall via the sponsor relationships with athletes as sponsors would be then more likely to step deeper into sponsoring events, more athletes, and National Federations.

5. Increase the total number of sponsored athletes as a result of providing clear return on investments for sponsors to justify the expense (which marketing departments currently cannot do).

6. Increase overall marketing surrounding Athletics through new, increased, and revitalized sponsor relationships.

7. Create a greater depth of athletes receiving financial support.

8. Create an incentive for young athletes to use to entice sponsors while they bridge the gap from good to great.

9. Allow well established athletes to optimize earning potential during their prime years;

10. Encourage worldwide participation and development of Athletics by creating a higher and broader earning potential for participants; and

 

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT

The membership and elite athletes of USATF instruct USATF’S IAAF Council Member and all others from USATF acting in official capacities in the IAAF to use all available means to effect changes in the IAAF Rules and Regulations so that athletes may

1. have a space of their own on their uniforms in all championship and international competitions to monetize freely the promise of their future performances and career-defining moments on the biggest global stages; and
2. wear the logos of more than one individual or team sponsor in International Invitational Competitions in order to maximize their earnings potential and to make earnings competitive with athletes in other sporting disciplines; and

 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT this resolution shall be forwarded by USATF to the appropriate individuals in the IAAF as an expression of USATF’S policy.