SBD/July 2, 2012/Marketing and Sponsorship

Eugene, Nike Hosting Track Trials Irks Some That Say Entities Too Closely Associated

Track Town USA, Nike could become "too closely associated" with USATF Trials
Eugene, Ore. hosted the USA Track & Field Olympic trials in ’08, this past weekend and “may do so again in 2016," but some track watchers “argue that the trials could become too closely associated with Eugene and Nike,” according to Ken Belson of the N.Y. TIMES. The city, which "calls itself Track Town USA and has perhaps the most avid track fans in the nation,” has a “rich heritage, deep-pocketed sponsor and made-for-television venue.” Author and USATF HOFer James Dunaway said, "While no one’s complained about inadequacy in Eugene, there’s a risk that it might become too familiar. No one wants to get Nike upset because they effectively fund USA Track & Field, so they’ve painted themselves into a corner.” Nike “spends millions of dollars promoting the trials in Eugene.” The company is the “only gold-level sponsor of the trials,” and the Nike swoosh “is everywhere.” Nike is also using the trials “as a corporate bonding experience, bringing in bus loads of employees from its main campus near Portland to see where the company began.” Sports business experts said that it is “hard to imagine that the company would spend as much money" on the trials if they were somewhere else. Belson noted rotating locations for the trials would allow USATF to “rekindle interest in the sport elsewhere.” Drake Univ. and the city of Des Moines, which will host the U.S. Track & Field championships next year, have “shown interest in hosting the trials in 2016, and appear to be Eugene’s leading rival.” Sacramento, which hosted the trials in ‘00 and ‘04, “may bid again.” USATF is “expected to formally open bidding for the 2016 trials in the fall, and the board could pick a winner as early as its annual meeting in December 2013.” USATF CEO Max Siegel said that he “hopes there are more cities in the running to host the event, not fewer” (N.Y. TIMES, 6/30).

GETTING FACETIME: In Portland, Allan Brettman noted for companies like Brooks, Saucony, adidas, Asics, New Balance and other running shoe brands not named Nike, there was "no escaping the ubiquity of the Swoosh during the Olympic trials.” But the other brands also “knew there was no avoiding Track Town U.S.A. for the quadrennial event.” Smaller brands “rented hospitality rooms -- in hotels and fraternity houses -- to support their athletes and celebrate their selections to the U.S. Olympic squad.” They also wanted to “avoid losing any ground to Nike, no matter how far ahead the Swoosh may be in sales of both running shoes and apparel.” Brooks Sports Marketing manager Jesse Williams and others indicated that Nike, for “its vastness, has helped raise the profile of track and field.” But “resentment against the Swoosh still bubbles up occasionally.” Williams and Saucony VP/Global Sports Marketing Mark Bossardt said that USATF event officials were “too eager to cloak Olympic qualifiers with Nike-branded USA team apparel.” Competitors are “required to wear the garments during the Olympics games, but not at the Trials” (Portland OREGONIAN, 7/1).
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