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“We have never liked the way that track did business. They’re only focused on business and not the athlete. I feel like we want to change that. It’s athlete first and business second. I want to change that and we are changing that.” – Tara Davis
“I think that we want to do that in two steps. One is being that person and those athletes making the change. It’s also trying to do things on our own to make that more accessible to athletes. I think it’s easier said than done a lot of times because those resources aren’t available to athletes. A lot of times there isn’t someone there teaching athletes what to do or how to market themselves and how to use these platforms to grow their brand to be able to connect with brands and support themselves.” – Hunter Woodhall
U.S. Olympic long jumper Tara Davis and Paralympic sprinter Hunter Woodhall are two of the most fun personalities in the sport. You may remember Davis celebrating making the U.S. Olympic team and rocking a cowboy hat and then celebrating by running into Woodhall’s arms. They’ve chronicled much of their relationship as well as their on and off-the-track story very well on social media. They’ve done such a great job of marketing themselves that they boast more than 420K subscribers on YouTube and have a combined TikTok following of more than 3 million followers. They sat down with me and my colleague Jasmine Todd to share the news that they’ve just signed a sponsorship deal with Lululemon as global brand ambassadors. In this episode, we touch on that deal, why they’ve gone about sponsorships and contracts differently in the track space and the importance of athletes harnessing their own story.
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The following part of the interview has been transcribed for your reading. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
CITIUS MAG: How did this deal with Lululemon come about?
Hunter Woodhall: Coming out of college, we were in a totally different spot in our lives. Everything was changing so quickly. The partnerships we had at the time worked really well. Now that we’ve kind of grown up and our lives are changing so much, what we’re doing and what we’re looking forward to in the future has also changed so much. This partnership has been perfect. It took a while to cultivate that relationship and really bring this partnership to light. It’s been something that’s been worked on behind-the-scenes for a while now. We’re so excited about everything coming out. It’s going to be very exciting for the next few years.
CITIUS MAG: Has it been a conscious effort to be a bit different in your respective approach to sponsorships and contracts with different brands?
Tara Davis: Absolutely. We have never liked the way that track did business. They’re only focused on business and not the athlete. I feel like we want to change that. It’s athlete first and business second. I want to change that and we are changing that.
Hunter Woodhall: I think that we want to do that in two steps. One is being that person and those athletes making the change. It’s also trying to do things on our own to make that more accessible to athletes. I think it’s easier said than done a lot of times because those resources aren’t available to athletes. A lot of times there isn’t someone there teaching athletes what to do or how to market themselves and how to use these platforms to grow their brand to be able to connect with brands and support themselves. This track world is built on brands capitalizing on athletes’ downfalls, athletes’ misfortunes and athletes’ injuries. When bad things happen to athletes, that’s when they lose the most. Why are people trying to capitalize on people at their lowest? As Tara said, it’s business before athlete. There should be a larger focus on the person.
CITIUS MAG: Hunter, being on the Paralympic side of things. If we think contracts are slim in track and field, it’s even slimmer on the Paralympic side. What are your thoughts on how you plan on changing that?
Hunter Woodhall: I think that’s one of the biggest reasons why I took this path. I knew with the Paralympics, it’s not a matter of whether the contracts are good, there just are no contracts there at all. I thought, ‘If I’m going to make this a career and if this is going to be sustainable, we’re going to have to take it a different way. Coming into college, I had a real big focus on social media. When I was battling a lot of the NIL stuff, I was actually meeting a lot of agents in the social media space who knew nothing about track. They were the ones who introduced me to the idea of supporting yourself through your own platforms and creating your own world. I hope what I’m doing can show how possible it is. Most of this, I did with an iPhone and a laptop. That’s pretty much how we built all of this. It’s very accessible. Athletes need to know what they’re doing on the track is so special and people want to see it. They just need to learn how to frame and share that as a story.
CITIUS MAG: How busy does that keep you? It can be difficult.
Tara Davis: Sometimes it’s difficult but a lot of stuff comes just naturally. You just bring a camera out and things happen. Marketing ourselves is hard because people online can bring you down. You think about what you can show and what you shouldn’t show. We try to show almost everything to give that real person and real-life action.
Hunter Woodhall: Everyone at the track and field sport at this level, you are a professional athlete. What you do is absolutely amazing and incredible. Although you may not get the credit – especially in the United States – that it deserves, that’s your opportunity to show what you’re doing. Being at practice or the things that you’re doing in the weight room or whatever, that is totally valid and plenty enough from a content perspective to share.
CITIUS MAG: Hunter, you brought up NIL. While you were in college, you were already amassing this huge following. How much do you estimate that you left on the table while in school?
Hunter Woodhall: Man, it’s tough. I would say if an athlete does the right things and builds a platform that’s in the hundreds of thousands or can sustain millions of views per month – which in reality isn’t that much with TikTok and Instagram reels where you have a reach without technically having the followers – there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be making in the hundreds of thousands of dollars just from social media. Whether that’s from the AdSense on the platforms or from brand deals and sponsorships.
Tara Davis: We missed out on A LOT of money. The number of times that we emailed back “no”… We would sit down with each other and be like, ‘Should we do it?’ ‘No, we’re going to get caught. It’s not even worth it.’
Hunter Woodhall: And then I got caught… (Laughs)
Tara Davis: There were talk shows. There were energy bars that people wanted to send us and give us. We just kept on saying no.
Hunter Woodhall: For me in college, I wasn’t even on a full scholarship toward the end of my college career. Not only am I not allowed to make any money but I’m also asking my parents to help me pay for school. Meanwhile, there are brands and people offering to cover my expenses and I have to say no. Because of what? That’s what made it really hard. I know there are a lot of athletes in that situation in sports like track where the scholarships are fractionalized.
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