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June 22, 2022

The State of Athlete Sponsorship In Track and Field

The USATF Outdoor Championships are returning to Eugene this weekend and my flight cost $1,430.20 — hopefully, if you are going as an athlete then you are one of the fortunate 32% is sponsored to do so! The true percentage may actually be much lower than this if we set a minimum definition of what qualifies as a legitimate, living wage-ish deal, and exclude those that are limited to gear and bonuses.

Check out this graphic that was shared widely on Instagram this weekend:

There is a lot of animosity towards certain brands for not stepping up and supporting more athletes, and maybe that’s fair. But there are 800 athletes competing this weekend! How many fans do you think this sport has? Sponsoring an athlete is not an act of charity, it’s a business decision by a brand trying to sell a product. If an athlete can help do that — whether or not they are the absolute best in their discipline — then they become valuable.

As demonstrated by the likelihood of 100m runners vs. javelin throwers being sponsored, there is an unofficial hierarchy in this sport in terms of visibility. The premier events will naturally draw more money to them as they grab more eyeballs. That does not necessitate that others can’t overcome the disadvantage, it just means they have to work harder — to win and break records — but also to capture the finite attention of the relatively shallow pool of fans that are out there. Much like this newsletter, there are a few thousand very enthusiastic track fans who refuse to tell their friends about it no matter how much I subtly ask them to.

Athletes need to take ownership of their careers and market themselves. Tell a story worth sharing and create a platform to tell it yourself when no one else will. Unfortunately, this is not golf, where simply hitting one brand of a ball over another is enough to warrant millions of dollars. Try a podcast, newsletter, YouTube channel, TikTok, running camp, event, Instagram, charity, apparel, cookbook, planner, Twitter, or something else to create a larger billboard for yourself.

As much as many fans and athletes hate to hear it, the reality is that from a brand’s perspective, the specific individuals in each uniform are relatively replaceable with one another, until they set themselves apart. So why you?

The Lap Count is a weekly newsletter delivered on Wednesday mornings that recap all the fun action from the world of track & field. It’s a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of the sport. There is a lot happening and this newsletter is a great way to stay up to date with all the fun. Subscribe today.

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