Here’s the problem. When an endemic sponsor — in this case Nike — is signed to a generation long contract as the footwear and apparel sponsor of your national athletics federation, there will be unintended consequences that fail to serve the best interest of one constituency or another over that period. That is the situation that currently confronts 2013 800 meter World Championships silver medalist Nick Symmonds who had until noon today to sign the USATF “Statement of Conditions” contract that attends his Team USA berth on the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Beijing, China later this month.
Symmonds, formerly a Nike athlete, is now sponsored by Brooks. But under USATF by-laws, athletes competing at the world championships or Olympics (or other Team USA selected competitions) are prohibited from wearing non-USATF sponsored gear during “official team functions”.
As to what constitutes “official team functions” is the wording Symmonds contends is both vaguely written and in violation of his personal contract with Brooks. USATF CEO Max Siegel has told Mr. Symmonds that if he doesn’t sign he will be replaced on the team. And so it goes. And so we wait. (Late on August 9 Mr. Symmonds was informed he has been dropped from the team for Beijing for failure his to sign the contract.)
But with USATF signing Nike to a reported 23-year, $500 million extension as exclusive shoe and apparel sponsor for Team USA in April 2014, every athlete signed by any other shoe company finds him / herself in opposition to his/her own best interests since they will not benefit financially from the USATF deal with Nike — other than to elevate their future marketability by performing well on the stage provided. The situation is similar to the IOC generating $6 billion in sponsorship and TV rights from the Olympic Games, none of which is distributed directly to the athletes who make those Games possible and profitable.
But we must also look at the issue from the national federation’s standpoint, recalling the state of USA Track & Field over the last generation, and the job confronting Mr. Siegel when he took the CEO job three years ago. Continue reading