Something cool is happening. Elite athlete companies are being founded in my sport and are now reaching a viable size to begin making their first efforts to support athletes. For athlete entrepreneurs, this is generally our first foray into experiencing sports marketing “from the other side.” I like what I’m seeing. With our own racing uniforms still warm, athlete entrepreneurs may not yet have big companies with huge marketing budgets, but we know where the real pain points are for our peers, and we’re motivated to do something about it.
Half miler Nick Symmonds knew that many of the athletes qualified for the National Championships in Track and Field were completely unsponsored, despite being among America’s best, and knew they were paying for their own travel and lodging just to participate. Nick’s company Run Gum offered cash to athletes who would wear a RunGum jersey, offsetting the cost of their trip. A small gesture, but an important one, meeting a need that nobody else was addressing while getting exposure to their core audience. Now they are attempting to provide support again in 2016, and when they were stopped by the USOC and USATF citing rules excluding anyone but approved shoe/apparel brands, Run Gum filed a lawsuit for non-competitive practices that is still underway.
Roll Recovery recently made a statement pointing out the exploitation of athletes racing in the Olympic Trials Marathon. Roll Recovery’s founders, Adriana and Jeremy Nelson, are deep in the sport, and Adriana competed in the Trials herself. Despite the event being packaged and marketed to sell TV rights and gain significant corporate sponsorships for governing bodies, the majority of athletes who hit the qualifying standard spend upwards of $1500 just to participate. And while only a few of the athletes make the team or get featured by the cameras, Roll Recovery reminded us that to have a race, you need athletes, and that USATF charging athletes a $30 entry fee on top of all their other expenses to help create the show they are selling, shows a fundamental disconnect with the heart and soul of our sport. Feeling that it wasn’t right, in a symbolic gesture, Roll Recovery offered to refund every athlete’s entry fee. Pretty cool.
Back in 2011 I tried to wear a temporary tattoos to show our tiny new company to the world during my debut marathon in NY, and was forced to have them scraped off or else be disqualified right before the start. This led to the first major wave of support from track and field athletes nationwide using social media, speaking out about logo restrictions in support of Picky Bars, for the sake of all athletes. The success of this collective act laid the foundation for bigger movements such as softening logo rules at the USATF annual meeting the following month, and the #wedemandchange movement from Olympians during the 2012 games drawing attention to Rule 40. For about a year there, the Track and Field Athlete’s Association showed promise it hasn’t been able to capitalize on since. But the support of my peers back then is a big part of what has kept my heart in activism, and eager to have Picky Bars provide support for athletes as we grow.
My focus since the tattoo incident has been to find ways to improve things within the system, proposing legislative changes and resolutions that would make a big difference to athletes’ financial viability, working to shed light on the things that aren’t right, and doing my best to keep our leaders accountable. To be honest, our sport isn’t set up right now to be a warm and welcoming place for new brands to come and stay for dinner. The more I fight this battle, the more I worry that the Run Gums, Roll Recovery’s and others including me will eventually choose a less arduous path. The activism of larger brands like Oiselle (led by Running USA’s 2015 Trailblazer of the Year, Sally Bergesen), help validate the worth of pushing for change and investing in the sport, but we need to keep supporting one another.
Right now, athlete entrepreneur hearts still beat in time. We see where the small but potent needs are, because they are the needs of our peers. At one point, they were our own needs. We want to help because we think maybe we can. We also see synergy in getting involved. We want the sport that raised us to be the sport that embraces our products and helps them grow. We want to show other athletes that this platform you build with your performances can grow into something else one day. We may not have big marketing budgets yet, but I love seeing that the current efforts being made are designed to meet the needs of the athletes that are most often overlooked. Athletes will benefit from more small businesses investing in the sport in creative ways.
Which is why I’m really excited to announce the “Feed The Dream™” project Picky Bars just launched. We thought for a long time about how we could stretch ourselves to meet an essential need for athletes. Good quality food is expensive, and this is a crucial time in athlete’s lives to leave no stone unturned. Elite athletes are among those who would appreciate our products most, but they are also the least likely to be able to buy them. We have decided to donate over $25,000 worth of Picky Bars to athletes training to compete in the Olympic Trials in track and field as well as other sports, in the form of free Picky Club Memberships, (our monthly home delivery subscription club), to fuel them with the best bars available through their buildup.
We are accepting applications through February 26th, and 100 athletes will be given a free monthly subscription to our Picky Club, the largest 24 bar box, from March through July. If you know of any athletes this might be of help to, I would be grateful if you’d help us spread the word by sharing this link that has all the information, as well as the application: https://pickybars.com/feed-the-dream.
If you know of any other athlete entrepreneurs in running or any other sport who are using creative strategies to meet the needs of athletes, please let us know about them below! I’d like to support them.