The facts surrounding the dropping of Nick Symmonds from Team USA before the start of the IAAF World Championships in Beijing continue to be discussed in sporting news. The question we have to ask ourselves is whether sponsors are given too much leeway when it comes to the stipulations for competing on the national team that have little to do with their athletic ability.
At what point is this considered overreaching, especially when the sponsor goes as far as to require athletes to only wear their brand, including underwear, but still allows them to wear other branded footwear and sunglasses.
Sure, Symmonds refused to sign USATF’s “Statement of Conditions” by the required deadline. The problem with this is that in the past he did comply, but he was also being sponsored by Nike separately at time. Therefore, there’s an expectation that he would sign again without questioning the stipulations that have not changed throughout his relationship with the USATF.
However, now being sponsored by Brooks, it’s understandable that he would have questions regarding the dress stipulations. Of course he would want to clarify what constitutes a team function to avoid conflicting with his contractual obligations with Brooks.
Compared to other athletes, track and field athletes lack the bargaining power of unions to negotiate large salaries and barely make a livable wage without endorsement deals. This year because he stood his ground, Symmonds stands to take a financial hit not only from the USATF, but also from Brooks to the tune of six figures, who naturally expects winning performances from the athletes they sponsor.
Brooks has issued the following statement:
While we're disappointed Nick Symmonds won't realize his dream to represent Team USA at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing, we applaud his leadership in creating a dialogue around athletes' rights. We will continue to support him on and off the track as a passionate ambassador for our sport and out brand.
Nike recently signed a 23-year deal with USATF where they’ll pay an average of $20 million a year as a sponsor, which gives them exclusive rights for outfitting the team for competition and team events. Out of the USATF’s estimated $30 million in total revenues, their elite runners roughly receive eight percent.
This precipitates the need for a revamping of what these athletes are paid to a fair wage if they’re expected to sell their soul to a specific sponsor and eschew their obligations to other sponsors.