Michael Johnson, Winners Alliance To Create Professional Track League Set For 2025 Debut

By Chris Chavez

February 27, 2024

Four-time Olympic champion Michael Johnson has partnered with Winners Alliance, a global athlete licensing and sponsorship firm, to launch a new professional track and field league “that aims to better engage existing fans by providing a TV-friendly product to promote the sport’s biggest stars and draw new audiences through unique storytelling,” according to a report from Sportico.

Here’s what you need to know:

– Winners Alliance claims that this is “the single largest investment in track and field history” with a reported seven-figure sum toward the venture.

– Johnson has already initiated conversations with potential media partners, sponsors and prospective investors.

– Winners Alliance and Johnson are also reportedly in discussions with World Athletics since they don’t view the new league as a competitor product.

– The venture is planning for a 2025 debut.

Here’s what they said:

Winners Alliance president Eric Winston to Sportico: “I don’t think anyone [until now] has tried to show the essence of the sport and really put the athletes front and center. It’s not just track; athletes are the main event. The NBA has made a push to put their athletes front and center and even the NFL, which was always a team-driven league, has done so as well.”

Johnson to Sportico: “I love this sport and owe everything I have to this sport.It’s been a shame for me to watch it over the last couple decades since I retired not be able to continue to provide the same amazing moments to people, outside of just the Olympics.”

In an Instagram video posted after the news broke, Johnson said: “I’ve teamed up with some great partners and together we’re making the biggest investment ever into professional track and field to build a professional, truly fan-focused league that unlock commercial value for the best track and field athletes in the world.”

How is track and field doing on TV this year?

It’s no surprise that track and field viewership is slightly up in the Olympic year. As noted by Rich Perelman of The Sports Examiner, the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix (1.19M viewers); Millrose Games (1.09M viewers) and Day 2 of the USATF Indoor Track and Field Championships (1.05M viewers) have all drawn an audience over a million. (Day 1 of the USATF Indoor Championships was broadcast behind a paywall on USATF.TV) However, the broadcast has massive struggles when it comes to the 18 to 34 demographic with just 53,000 viewers in that range.

Recent Leagues Haven't Taken Off In America

Track and field’s attempts to start a “league” have not taken off to resemble anything more than just a series of track meets in America to allow athletes to compete closer to home rather than heading off to Europe. In 2016 and 2017, TrackTown USA hosted the TrackTown Summer Series, consisting of three meets, where professional athletes were drafted to represent four major cities. The meets were broadcast on ESPN but did not garner much attention for it’s teams. The American Track League is similar in the sense that it is just a series of track meets in America but there is no connection between the athletes participating meet to meet.

Johnson’s new league could take cues from the Professional Triathlon Organization, which he’s publicly praised before. In September 2022, he tweeted: “Met with PTO leaders about taking a niche sport to the mainstream. PTO is solving for similar issues facing track with: 1) Big prize money 2) Head 2 head competition 3) Storytelling over numbers 4) Partnering with athletes to create stars. Former F1 Rugby 7s UFC staffers helps!”

In addition to financially backing athletes and marketing them, the PTO has its series of events but also struck a partnership with World Triathlon to bolster its series alongside the World Triathlon Championship Series. The series has global broadcast and streaming partners and offers up prize purses of over $1M for some events.

The PTO’s mission statement also rings closer to what Johnson and Winton have said in their brief comments: “The goal of the Professional Triathletes Organisation (PTO) is to celebrate the passion, determination and achievements of professional triathletes, bringing their stories to the fore and elevating racing on a global stage to reach and inspire new fans around the world.”

Kyle's Take:

“Help us MJ-Wan Kenobi. You’re our only hope!”

The 12-time gold medalist has never been shy about criticizing the trials and tribulations of track and field, and Michael Johnson is ready to do more than just tweet about it. In an announcement on Tuesday, ambiguous plans about a seven-figure investment in partnership with Winners Alliance to create a new fan-focused track league coming in 2025.

Winners Alliance has worked largely in the tennis space and has recently dipped its toes into cricket, which is the second most watched sport in the world and is desperately working to globalize. The CEO, Ahmad Nassar, is the former President of the NFL Players Inc. and specializes in marketing, licensing, and getting athletes paid. And notably the Chairman of the Board is billionaire Bill Ackman, who you may know from X, and whose net worth is a reported $4.2B. To every billionaire trying to immortalize themselves by buying professional sports franchises — you are thinking too small! You can buy an entire sport.

With Johnson on the roster, that team has the knowledge and resources to change the game overnight. Admittedly, the press release does not say much about how that will be done nor if I will be asked to help! But it does identify the main problem being that despite the interest of a few billion people to see more of the sport outside the Olympics, the distribution, events, and marketing are lagging well behind.

With few details shared, it’s not a total mystery where Johnson may seek some inspiration from. He’s been an ambassador and met with leaders of the Professional Triathlon Organization within the past two years. In Sept. 2022, he tweeted: “Met with PTO leaders about taking a niche sport to the mainstream. PTO is solving for similar issues facing track with: 1) Big prize money 2) Head 2 head competition 3) Storytelling over numbers 4) Partnering with athletes to create stars. Former F1 Rugby 7s UFC staffers helps!” Sounds like what he may be looking to start within track.

An interesting note is that Johnson does not view this new initiative as a Diamond League competitor, which is what you HAVE to say. Because if World Athletics wanted to play hardball, they could make life difficult by not sanctioning the events and therefore not accepting performances for championships. But with 15 Diamond League meets spread across the outdoor season, there isn’t that much room for new blood.

However, that’s only an issue if the template is to replicate that format. And if being a billionaire can buy your kid walking hand-in-hand with Messi onto the field, then it can certainly buy creativity and passion. I will be by my phone.

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Chris Chavez

Chris Chavez launched CITIUS MAG in 2016 as a passion project while working full-time for Sports Illustrated. He covered the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and grew his humble blog into a multi-pronged media company. He completed all six World Marathon Majors and is an aspiring sub-five-minute miler.