In late June, professional runner Nick Symmonds won his fifth consecutive 800-meter title at the USA Outdoor Championships. The standard next step would take him to the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing at the end of August. However, Symmonds won't be there—and it's because of what the runner describes as "frustrating" circumstances.
The two-time Olympian signed a sponsorship agreement with Brooks Running in January 2014 after previously being sponsored by Nike for seven years. Athlete sponsorship contracts typically include various promotional activities, such as the athlete wearing branded attire, attending brand events or being featured in marketing efforts.
The 2015 USATF team, which is sponsored by Nike, has required its team members to "wear the Nike Team USA apparel (includes under layer apparel, bandanas, headbands, hats, sweatbands, wristbands, socks, sports bras, travel bags, etc.; but shall exclude sunglasses, watches and shoes) at all team functions throughout the trip, including at the athlete hotel, during training, press conferences, competition, and award ceremonies. Accordingly, please pack ONLY Team USA, Nike or other non-branded apparel and be sure to bring your Team USA gear."
USATF athletes are not allowed to wear brands other than Nike, even during their downtime at the hotel. Nike has paid for the right to the official USATF team uniform since 1991 and has extended the contract twice, currently running through 2017. There are reports that another extension would extend the partnership through 2040.
Symmonds says he has no problem wearing Nike-branded team apparel during competitions, training, awards ceremonies and press conferences. What he does take issue with, however, is not even being able to pack his Brooks gear, much less having the ability to wear it during his time away from the track or other team events. It's unclear at this point whether Nike or USATF crafted the language.
On August 9, USATF sent an email to Symmonds stating that if he didn't sign the team agreement by noon that day, he would forfeit his spot to another runner. Symmonds claims to have "made several offers to help USATF draft new Terms & Conditions," but his attempts were answered with unwillingness to compromise.
Clearly, the runner is faithful to his sponsors and does what he says he will. In 2012, he wore a temporary tattoo promoting a marketing firm during races for the entire year after selling his shoulder as an advertisement spot to the agency for $11,000. He currently wears a temporary tattoo featuring Run Gum, a company he co-founded.
Symmonds has been vocal about athletes' rights, specifically when it comes to compensation. He points out that other professional sports have a much higher revenue-sharing proportion with athletes as compared to Track & Field team members. For example, USA Basketball shares roughly 50 percent of its profit with athletes. USATF shares just 8 percent.
Symmonds claims he will receive no more than $13,000 from USATF this year, not including sponsorships or stipends. The runner also claims that an investigation by sports economist Andrew Zimbalist points to a missing $3.52 million in USATF's accounting records.
While Symmonds will be watching the IAAF World Championships from his couch, he does have three goals laid out in an article he wrote for Huffington Post:
- Work with USATF to rewrite the "Statement of Conditions" so that it better protects the rights of all parties involved.
- Demand that USATF increase revenue sharing with athletes to at least 50 percent of gross revenue.
- Get some answers as to where that missing $3.52 million went.
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