Wednesday, December 12, 2012

#SPONSORBLOCK and a Request for Change

It wasn’t until the 2012 Olympic Games that I became aware of the strict governance from the USATF, USOC, and IAAF that suffocates the athletes we know, love, admire, perhaps train with, or aspire to become. During the Olympic Trials and the Olympic Games, there were many restrictions placed on athletes to speak publicly or promote their sponsors. This is not only unfair to the sponsors who took a risk in supporting their chosen athletes, it’s unfair to the athletes who LOVE their sponsors and finally have a national or international platform to promote them. It would be like a World Champion in Kona not being able to thank their wetsuit, bike, or run sponsor until after all the hype died down and everyone left the Big Island. Read more about the blackout period that Olympic athletes had to respect during the London Games here and here.

Over the past couple years as my athletic success has grown, I’ve been lucky enough to become a sponsored athlete and represent brands that help support my goals. Whether it’s a team sponsorship or individual sponsorships, the fuel, apparel, equipment, or services have helped soften the financial burden that is sometimes required to get ahead in sport. I love these brands and supporters and I do whatever I can to promote them. Luckily for me, the Ironman world stage isn’t plagued by Rule 40 of the USOC and there’s no blackout period around the time of my biggest, most important races.

My sponsorship with Oiselle opened my eyes to the smaller companies and the athletes they support. Leading up to the Olympic Trials in Eugene, OR this past June, Oiselle jumped through several hoops to outfit their athletes in a race kit that complied with USATF/USOC/IAAF, the Track and Field regulators. Check out their video: In this video the women at Oiselle give this process a funny spin. Yet they also prove that it was incredible headache versus the pure joy to design a race kit for their athletes participating in the Olympic trials.

Working with and having friends who work for brands like Nuun, PowerBar, Blue70, Oiselle, and Brooks, I know they carefully select and then take care to ensure their athletes have what they need to compete at high levels. And they don’t just do it for the recognition, they do it because they believe in their athletes, they love their athletes and they want the best for their respective sports. So please join me in supporting the athletes who have become members of TFAA or become a supporter yourself: Attention to this subject will only help the sport of Track and Field (and the many generous sponsors) grab the mainstream attention it deserves.

Follow TFAA here: or follow them on Twitter @TrackFieldAA

Support Track and Field and watch these athletes FLY! #freebird



  1. I do not know. The nationality plays much bigger role in the Olympics than it does in any other competitions. Many countries have their own “team” sponsors and they provide this team kit to their Olympic athletes and therefore the equipment/gear athletes use in the Olympics might be different from what they use during their regular season.

    There are so many restrictions on equipment to try to make it fair for everyone (of course, it is not 100% working but that’s the idea behind it) because Olympics should be about athletes and not about equipment. Everybody should have an equal chance.
    I still think that the Olympic Games are about athletic achievements and what athletes use or wear should not be important. Therefore I agree with restrictions on sponsors’ logos. Promoting gear and equipment kind of like undermines the whole concept of “man against man” and the “purity” of sport, which should be based on one’s abilities not on one’s equipment.
    Thus let's not spoil the Olympics with dragging the corporate business into it (although I do realize that the whole Olympics is very business and profit-driven, but let's keep it pure on athletes level).

    In addition, people who compete in the Olympics have a very well established record of the athletic achievements and they have had many opportunities to promote and thank their sponsors in other races. Thus nobody should be upset.

  2. First, thanks Cathleen for your thoughtful blog...I went through your same learning process as we got increasingly involved with pro Track & Field. It was a real eye opener.

    In reply to the first comment, I hear and respect the notion that the Olympics should be focused solely on athletic performance. Ahletic greatness free from equipment ties would be ideal. But the reality is that in order to get to the top, the athletes need to earn money. Without a state-sponsored athletic support program like many countries have, the US relies on private, corporate support. (Personally, I think we'd all be better off with state-sponsored pro sports, but that's a different discussion).

    This corporate funded system has created two dynamics that are crippling pro T&F athletes' ability to train and succeed: 1) a single dominant shoe brand now provides more than 70% of the funding for the USATF, the governing body of Track & Field in the US. This financial relationship is what's driving the USATF logo restrictions. Simlutaneously, 2) pro athletes who cannot secure sponsorship with this top brand (probably only the top 5% do), are unable to get other sponsors because those sponsors will receive zero visibility once the athlete has reached the top. The current system is both monopolizing and asphyxiating.

    Bottom line, Rule 40, and the ability for athletes to mention their sponsors during the Olympics is just the tip of the iceberg. What's at stake here is every other day, month, year that pro T&F athletes are tasked with eeking out a living while corporate sponsors (both of the USATF and USOC) lock down their power positions and prevent smaller players from being involved.

    There are a lot of views out there...just my two cents.

    1. Thanks for the explanation above, Sally. I’m happy I could share this video and spread the word on small steps we can take that could help create change. A lot of my friends watched the video and thought the hoops you had to jump through were just ridiculous. I’ve watched the video a few times and I still get chills listening to the announcers: “representing Oiselle, Kate Grace!” Even with all the rounds and headache, it’s still pretty frickin awesome!

  3. I had no idea how sponsorships in USATF works so it is interesting to read about it.

    I come from a country where sport used to be heavily sponsored by the state, it is still sponsored by the state but not as much as it used to and every single pro athlete complains about the lack of financial support they get. It makes me quite mad actually because those athletes rarely work hard to get private sponsors, they expect state to fully sponsor them. Which I agree that the state should take care of its best athletes but it is not happening thus those athletes should stop b*** about it in every interview they give and instead go out and actively look for corporate sponsors. But that's a different discussion too.

    The discussion about the corporate-funded system is an interesting one, but I do not think has much to do with the Olympic Games blackout period.

    The Olympic Games are (or at least should be) something different that USATF (or any other country's T&F governing body) events, and therefore we should not go by the same "rules" and notions.

    1. Thanks for your comments and thanks for reading. It’s hard for me to know exactly how many of the professional athletes are affected and it’s something I will never experience. But I feel like any regulation that hinders some of our athletes from securing sponsorship and thus earning a living, has a negative impact on the development of the sport.