Wisdom.Applied Wednesday: Track athlete brand sponsorships limit voices

Wisdom.Applied Wednesday: Track athlete brand sponsorships limit voices

Playing a professional sport seems like a pretty good gig, right? Athletes not only get to play the sport they love and grew up playing, but they generate a pretty healthy salary as well. Athletes playing in the U.S. such as Lebron James, Miguel Cabrera, Calvin Johnson and Alexander Ovechkin all excel at their respective sports while making an extremely pretty penny on the side. What fans don’t necessarily pay attention to is that these athletes are also; all part of strong, individual sports players unions.

With a solid sports players union, athletes are able to have their voice heard in disputes revolving around unfair treatment in their leagues, whether the dispute is a salary issue or simply requesting to be traded to another team. Through their unions, these athletes are all considered employees, given their individual rights.

But what happens with athletes who are self-represented? If they are not considered an employee, they are basically labeled individual contractors. But these athletes are looking to change that. This Wisdom.Applied Wednesday, take a look at how a group of self-represented athletes are trying to gain a bigger voice and how that impacts brands.

In today’s changing media landscape, brands are throwing more wight behind sports sponsorships, from teams and organizations to individual athletes and events. The athlete/brand sponsor relationship differs depending on if the athlete is a part of a union or is self-represented. For track and field athletes professionally competing at events across the world, brand sponsorship is one of theses self-represented athletes’ only ploys at gaining revenue. A 2014 Wall Street Journal article states that these professional runners differentiate from regular union athletes due to the fact the majority of their incomes come from sponsorship contracts with shoe and apparel companies, which usually only compensates the elite runners for “world-class meets.”

But, what if a runner doesn’t have a contract? Well, as described by Kara Goucher, a former Nike runner, it can be quite an experience pitching to big brands for running sponsorships. Goucher compared this process to college-recruiting in a sort, stating that “you go and meet all of these people and you get these relationships with people and learn about them and what they stand for.” In March, Goucher intentionally decided to not re-sign her Nike contract due to her open mentality of meeting a sponsor that better suits her beliefs in being more outspoken: Oiselle.

What makes Goucher’s decision note-worthy is that typically, without hesitation, a runner will try to re-negotiate or re-sign their contract. If they don’t take these actions, like Goucher, they are responsible for finding and pitching their skills to brands themselves in hope of receiving a satisfactory sponsorship.



As Goucher’s exemplary actions try to shed light on the tough situation, a finish line could be in sight in the future for track and field athletes. The top pro track and field athletes are in collective talks to boycott or strike the U.S. National Track and Field governing body, at least showing a collective voice among the group. Recent talk this summer by companies that sponsor groups of runners focuses on granting these athletes more of a voice within their respective contracts.

It’ll be interesting to see whether the big brands pass their batons to their athletes granting them more rights.

Cover Photo Source: John Kropewnicki /

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Killian is a Junior Executive at SJG. He is entering his senior year, studying Technical Communication and Marketing at Missouri University of Science & Technology. When playing hooky from the office, he can be found throwing the baseball, running, fishing or rooting on the St. Louis Cardinals, Rams or Blue Notes.[/author_info] [/author]