THE SYMMONDS DILEMMA

Nick Symmonds heading to Beijing? Credit: Micah Drew, Boise

Will Nick Symmonds be Smiling in Beijing?   Photo credit: Micah Drew, Boise Weekly

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

GLOBAL ATHLETICS CONFERENCE 2014: KEYNOTE ADDRESS

The political season of athletics is upon us. This weekend in Anaheim, California USA Track & Field (USATF), the National Governing Body for track and field, long-distance running and race walking in the United States, convened for its annual meeting. While this family gathering has degenerated in past years into internecine squabbles, last night USATF CEO Max Siegel gave an encouraging State of the Sport address in which he presented several new initiatives across the USATF platform, while announcing two new sponsor partnerships with Hoka One One and Rosetta Stone.

Also, today we heard 1980s Olympic middle-distance champion Sebastian Coe of England announce his candidacy to replace retiring IAAF president Lamine Diack of Senegal in 2015.  Lord Coe released a Manifesto in conjunction with his announcement,  ‘Growing Athletics in a New Age’.  Coe’s primary opponent for the IAAF top job will be another athletics icon of the 20th century, pole vaulter Sergey Bubka of Ukraine who also currently serves as an IAAF Vice President .

In light of these tidings, I thought I would release the contents of the keynote address I made to the Global Athletics Conference in Durban, South Africa in November as it speaks to many of the same issues which confront the leaders of this age-old sport. Titled “Media Matters”, these are subjects which I have written about in the past on this site.

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GAC 2014 - Toni Reavis - Media Matters Powerpoint
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USATF.TV TO DEBUT AT NATIONALS IN DES MOINES

USATFNationals2013     If we can bitch and moan when things aren’t being done well — and God knows I have — then we must salute when something is.  So while track & field (“athletics” to the rest of the world) may still be well behind the curve of other individual sports like golf and tennis in terms of having its own broadcast channel, under new CEO Max Siegel USATF is launching an array of media coverage for its upcoming National Championships in Des Moines, Iowa that should make even die-hard critics doff their caps in recognition of progress.  The following presser was released today on the eve of the USATF Championships. Continue reading

USATF ANNOUNCES HALF-MARATHON CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE

USA Track & Field announced today that Houston, Texas and Columbus, Ohio will be the sites for the next four men’s and women’s USA Half Marathon Championships.  Houston will host the 2014 and 2015 championships, while Columbus will be the host city in 2016 and 2017.

Houston has a long history of staging national championship events, including the 2012 men’s and women’s U.S. Olympic Trials – Marathon, the 1992 U.S. Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials and 12 U.S. Half Marathon Championships since 2005.

“We are excited to have Houston and Columbus play hosts to our USA Half Marathon Championships from 2014 through 2017,” said USATF CEO Max Siegel in a released statement. “We look forward to working with both cities to deliver what promises to be four years of elite competitions that will highlight the talents of our nation’s best runners.”

The men’s and women’s national half-marathon championship races will be run in conjunction with the Aramco Houston Half Marathon in Houston. The events will be held in January in 2014 & 2015.

“This is the ideal way to celebrate our 10th year with Aramco Services Company,” said Wade Morehead, Executive Director of the Houston Marathon Committee. “We would like to thank USATF as we are honored to take on this responsibility again and we look forward to bringing the U.S. Half Marathon Championships back to Houston in 2014.”

Columbus, Ohio’s previous experience hosting a national championship came in 1992 when it served as site for the 1992 U.S. Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials.

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THE PLAYERS MUST BE AT THE TABLE IF THEY ARE ALSO TO BE THE MEAL

     (The following editorial was written for and posted by the Track & Field Athletes Association (TFAA) on its website. It is re-posted here with their permission.)

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“The test of allegiance to a cause or people is the willingness to run the risk of repeating on old argument just one more time, or going one more round against a hostile, or much worst, indifferent audience.”  – Christopher Hitchens, from his memoir Hitch-22.

Amidst the swirling eddies and currents of a race a champion must possess more than just strength, speed, and endurance. He/she must also be able to “read the whitewater” to discern the fugitive line to victory. Those who lack this critical capacity are pulled under in the sweep of the flow or find themselves shunted to a limpid side-pool wondering what became of the moment.

Today, on their own political course, the athletes of track and field find themselves looping around again full circle – or full oval, if you must – to a line they seem to discover once every generation, the one separating ‘what is’ from ‘what might be’.

Spurred by an arbitrary decision by the USATF’S national office which instituted a policy of enforcing IAAF advertising regulations restricting the size and number of commercial and club logos on athletes’ uniforms, athletes gathered at the 33rd USA Track & Field Annual Meeting in St. Louis to voice their displeasure and concerns. Once there, however, the meeting of the Athletes Advisory Committee quickly turned chaotic once live-streaming to the internet was discovered.  Soon tempers flared, sponsor walk-outs ensued, the room was cleared, then re-opened, but with the media now barred.

Ultimately, however, the athletes prevailed, in as much as they convinced the USATF board of directors to adopt their position in opposition to the logo policy in domestic meets. The athletes’ cause was led by the Athletes Advisory Committee chairman Jon Drummond and attorney David Greifinger, the former legal counsel to the USATF board, now serving as the athletes’ advocate.  it was Greifinger who submitted a resolution that USATF lift its logo restrictions for competitions that are not classified as “international” by the IAAF or conducted by the USOC.

The takeaway message from that meeting was simple, if the athletes cohere, their voice will carry. Today, the Track & Field Athletes Association (TFAA) has taken up the megaphone on behalf of their current and nascent members, affirming that the operating model of their sport has not been designed with the athletes’ best interests in mind.

However, though bolstered by the logos-on-uniforms issue, TFAA is still a fledgling organization (founded in December 2009). Which beggars the question, what is the true nature of TFAA’s existence? Is it resolved to take some kind of intelligibly vertebrate stance, striving to become one among equals in the determination of its membership’s fate? Or is it only looking to work the margins, just another tender in a larger game beyond its capacity to engage much less control? Continue reading

USATF ANNOUNCES FORMER BOARD MEMBER AS NEW CEO

Max Siegel, new USATF CEO

In a move that comes as no surprise, USA Track & Field announced today that its board of directors has selected 47 year-old Indianapolis native Max Siegel, a marketing executive with ties to the sports and music industries – and former USATF board member  – to serve as its new CEO.  USATF has been operating without a full-time CEO since the board dismissed Doug Logan in September 2010 after a rocky two years at the helm.  Chief Operating Officer Mike McNees had been serving as interim CEO.

Mr. Siegel becomes the fourth chief executive in the organization’s history following Ollan Cassell (1980-1996), Craig Masback (1997-2008), and Doug Logan (2008-2010). He will assume his duties on May 1st under a two-year contract reportedly valued at $500,000 per year with performance bonuses.

Since USATF announced last month that it intended to hire a new CEO before the June track & field trials in Eugene, Oregon – thus ending a protracted 16-month interregnum – many long-time observers of the sport surmised the selection would come from within the USATF family. And since Mr. Siegel had been a USATF board member (2009-2011) whose firm was hired last October to oversee the USATF marketing effort going into the summer Olympics, he was widely expected to be named to the CEO position. Continue reading