Sponsorship Dispute Leading To Standoff, Possible Suit Between Nick Symmonds, USATF
Two-time Olympic runner Nick Symmonds said that he will sue USA Track & Field if the NGB keeps him off the national team for this month’s IAAF World Championships over a sponsorship dispute. Symmonds will not sign a contract requiring him to wear Nike-branded gear during all team functions throughout the trip -- first to Japan to train and then to the Beijing competition -- which starts Aug. 22. He said signing the contract would violate his own contract with personal sponsor Brooks Running, which he joined in January '14 after leaving Nike. USATF says he is off the team if he does not sign by Sunday.
RUNNIN’ DOWN A DREAM: Symmonds argues that USATF and Nike are “bullying” athletes by stretching the boundaries of Nike’s rights in regard to its USATF sponsorship. Symmonds says he will wear the Team USA uniform while actually competing, but the contract attempts to enforce Nike/Team USA brand purity on items such as bandanas, travel bags and socks. One letter from USATF told him to not even pack anything from a conflicting sponsor for the entire trip. Symmonds said, "My concern is that ... how far back can they go? If they wanted to, they could say I have to wear Nike from the moment that I make the team at USAs, and then all of a sudden they’re buying up the entire season. USATF and Nike are just taking way too much of the pie, so far as to violate my rights as an athlete.” Symmonds complained to USATF CEO Max Siegel in recent weeks, but they reached an impasse after exchanging several emails and phone calls.
WON’T BACK DOWN: USATF spokesperson Jill Geer said 60% of the NGB’s elite athletes have individual sponsors that conflict with team deals and that they routinely find a way to resolve the conflicts. Geer said the same can be said in virtually every other pro sport. Geer added that athletes have ample opportunities during non national-team events to wear their personal sponsors’ logos, including broadcasts and other opportunities funded by the NGB. Geer: “USATF is a strong advocate for athletes to have as many sources of revenue as possible. But the standard for when our team uniform and our team products must be worn is well known, and it’s consistent with the rest of the industry within track and field, internationally and also in other sports.” USATF said signing the Nike-only contract is a standard condition to participate in national team events. USATF said Symmonds already signed it once before as a Brooks-backed athlete -- a fact he disputes. Symmonds said he has spent thousands of dollars on travel and a visa, and USATF has already sent him a uniform along with a congratulatory letter. He said he will sue to recover costs if he is left off the team, but his goal is bigger than that. Symmonds: “My end game is to see that this document is rewritten and stops exploiting athletes.