The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

Why Not Allow Advertising?

Oct 5th, 2011
9:31 am PDT

I just finished reading Nick Symmonds’ post on Flo Track, “I’m Tired of USATF and IAAF Crippling Our Sport”.

I’m in total agreement with Nick. As a matter of fact I have wondered for YEARS why track and field has not allowed its athletes to pursue advertising in the same way that NASCAR has allowed its drivers to do so.

imageI can understand USATF not wanting individual advertising on its National Team uniforms – because frankly that should be reserved for advertising that USATF has procured, if it were procuring advertising! I can also understand the IAAF wanting “clean” uniforms at its Major championship meets. Outside of those settings, however, what should it matter to either organization?

Here’s my question: how do they expect athletes to make a living? These are professionals that are non-salaried. In essence they are individual contractors that have overhead to deal with as well as trying to earn a living. They have training costs – coaches, doctor’s fees, etc. – as well as their competition costs – travel, expenses away from home, etc. Some have shoe contracts, all deal with appearance fees. If you are among the very elite – Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay, Allyson Felix, et al – then you have substantial shoe contracts and can command some very good appearance fees. If you are part of a big club, you may get assistance in some areas from the club. If you are simply out trying to make a living in the sport and have not yet reached the pinnacle however, then as Nick Symmonds alluded to the going can be rough.

Most sports understand that the athlete is the product and that with no product there is no sport – at least there isn’t the ability to package and sell that sport to the masses. That’s why in the BIG professional team sports like the NFL. MLB, and NBA they deal with collective bargaining agreements that guarantee the athletes a percentage of the league income – often approaching 50%. It’s also why other professional sports that deal with athletes as individuals – NASCAR, the PGA, Beach Volleyball, among others – the athletes are allowed to solicit their own sponsorships AND advertise them on their person. In NASCAR the competition vehicle itself becomes rolling advertising!

Why would track and field want to LIMIT the ways in which athletes are able to earn income? Especially given that it has NOT developed a system whereby it can provide “salaries” to its athletes? If those running the sport can’t guarantee the athletes income, what right does it have to limit their earning potential such that it does NOT inhibit the sport itself – especially when a successful model (Individual Sponsorships) has already been provided?

imageThe athletes could actually help to open up new advertising revenue streams for the sport by serving as ambassadors as they seek out individual sponsorships. If the sport were smart it would use these as a means to get “a foot in the door”, and perhaps piggy back to obtain larger scale financing opportunities for the sport as a whole!

I’m extremely disappointed that the sport is acting as antagonist in this regard. It should be the job of the federations and the IAAF to provide “support” for the athletes. All too often, however, the rules of the sport are set up to treat the athlete as enemy instead of the “commodity” that they are. The athletes are the reason that EVERYONE associated with this sport gets paid, yet they are the ones with the most limits imposed upon them.

Even the grand payday that is supposed to be the Diamond League only offers the athletes a 50% chance at earning a living, since each meet only offers half of the available events! The same goes for most of the meets on the “Circuit”. Yet the meet promoters, announcers, and everyone else associated with meets still get paid for a full meet – even if only half the events/athletes are competing.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, of all the professional sports out there the athletes of track and field are most in need of an athlete’s union. Something I will talk more about during the “off season”.


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