Creating Stability in T & F Contracts

posted by amyYB, a Women Talk Sports blogger
Tuesday, November 6, 2012 at 5:08pm EST

About amyYB:

Track Athlete, 2008 Olympian - 10,000 meters, Celiac Athlete, 6-time US National Champion, 2009 IAAF World Championships - 6th place 10,000 meters, 15-Time NCAA All-American, 14:56 5,000 meter P.R., 3...more

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My last journal detailed the various track & field contracts from gear to lucrative base salaries offered by shoe companies.  I want to explain the funding of track and field and give my opinion about creating stability in track & field contracts.  The United States, USOC and USATF don’t fully support the athletes or the coaches therefore the shoe companies keep the sport afloat. 


The USOC, United States Olympic Committee, oversees the National Governing Bodies (NGB) of the Olympic sports with a budget of roughly $150 million. Several colleges have athletic budgets that are comparable to the entire USOC budget.   The United States is one of a handful of governments of the “wealthy” nations that does not fund the athletes or the Olympic Committee.  It has been noted that it is difficult to ask the government for money when we have won the medal count five times in a row.   The question to ask is, “Do we want to stay on top?”  The rest of the world will continue to close the gap as they fund their Olympic sports. 


The USOC gives money to each of the 46 NGBs (National Governing Body) dependent on the proposed budget and achievement of the athletes in that sport.   According to Brian Gomez in a July 2011 article at the standard.net, the USOC gave $59.1 million to the NGBs to “help them run their businesses better.”  In comparison, most major colleges or universities have athletic budgets equal or larger than the total amount of money given to all 46 NGBs.   There seems to be a problem if a university can raise more money for its athletic department than the USOC can raise to fund all the NGBs. 


The USOC also offers insurance to the top athletes in each sport.  During the past few years the USOC has cut the number of athletes in the insurance program.  However, the insurance is almost worthless to athletes in regards to training.  The USOC insurance does NOT cover any athletic injury.  If you tear your Achilles in training and need an MRI and surgery, that comes out of your pocket and is not insured.  The USOC insurance only covers sickness and injuries not related to your sport’s training. 


USATF (United States of America Track & Field) is the governing body for all of track & field in the USA, including youth running programs, masters racing, road racing, cross country, race walking, junior nationals and senior or open nationals.  (Other organizations govern high school and college programs.)  USATF’s budget just reached roughly $20 million dollars.  That may sound like a lot, but it is a lot less than many smaller nations.  The United States has 311 million people and is the third largest country behind China and India.  Yet, the United Kingdom Athletics (Track & Field) has a budget of roughly $32 million that comes from the National Sports Lottery and another large sponsor.  The UK has fewer than 80 million people and supports their track & field program with more money than USATF and USOC combined.   The UK Athletics not only funds athletes but coaches as well. 


Recently, the UK Athletics has hired and taken three of our best coaches from the elite level.  Rana Reider and Terrance Mahon have joined Dan Pfaff on the UK coaching staff.  In 2009, UK Athletics hired Dan Pfaff as the Centre Director for the 2012 Performance Centres.  Those three coaches were involved in coaching at least 42 Olympians and too many National Champions to count.  (To be fair, the Oregon Track Club Elite in Eugene does have Coach Rowland, from the UK.)


The problem does not stem from lack of participation or interest in the sport.  Track & Field is one of the most participated sports in high school and the most watched sport of the Olympic Games.  According to the National Federation of State High School Associations the 2011-2012 high school track & field participants reached 1,044,375 boys and girls.  With that type of base, Track & Field should be able to raise more money to support “the business”.  The bottom line is that track & field is not properly funded or supported by the government, the NGB, or the fans.  Track and field needs to find a way to become a respected and self funded professional sport for both athletes and coaches.  Until that time, the shoe companies will continue to be the main source of income for athletes and some races. 


The current set-up puts the shoe companies in command of the sport.  In some instances the shoe companies dictate who can enter meets depending on the sponsorship of the meet and the athlete.  They can also require athletes to race in a shoe company sponsored event, even if it is not in the best interest of the athlete.  Exposure for the sponsorship money is the name of the game.  A fine line needs to be walked between athletes and shoe companies.  If the shoe companies stop sponsoring athletes, races and even USATF; it would take a few years to get other sponsorship alternatives.  The sport would suffer in the intermediate. 


The current sponsorship set-up of track & field athletes is reliant on shoe sponsorships.  Each shoe company has different policies for writing, renewing and enforcing contracts.  However, most of the contracts are written to favor the shoe companies and leave the athlete with little leverage or rights due to their contracted worker status.  The shoe companies add reductions to the contracts in order to protect their investment.  They want to make sure they get what they paid for.  In fairness, they also add bonuses to reward outstanding performances.  However, as the base salary rises the bonuses and reductions get tougher. 


The major problem with reduction clauses is the time-line and mandatory participation in events without regard to the health or fitness of the athlete.  Some athletes have been forced to fly across the world to compete when it put them at a disadvantage in the event or in qualifying for a major event.  Athletes also end up competing when they are not healthy.  They cut corners in rehab to speed up the process.  I can say that the last 2 years of my contract, I was continually injured trying to meet deadlines and ended up injuring myself to the point that I may never be able to return to racing. 


The other problem with reduction clauses is the instability of the salary during the year.  The athlete budgets their training, medical, rehab, travel and racing dependent on their salary.  When the salary is reduced or terminated (without notice in many cases) the athlete has to make immediate changes to training, rehab, travel and life.  The changes do not lead to the best performances for the athlete.  Therefore the shoe company will be getting even less for their investment.   


As in any negotiation both sides want a fair deal.  The athlete wants as much as possible and the shoe company wants to pay as little as possible.  Each side has an idea of what the athlete (walking billboard) is worth.   As referred to in a prior post, I outlined the budget that I used to train at a world-class level.  It took $45,000 to cover the training, travel and medical costs.  However, that did not cover my cost of living (my husband’s job covered this for me).   


Until there is another system, I want to propose a different way to approach track & field sponsorship for both shoe companies and athletes that includes contracts that offers a base salary that can NOT be changed or reduced during the entire length of the contract.  This means a smaller, more consistent base with more lucrative incentive bonuses.  Track & Field is a sport of statistics and data.  It would not take much for agents, athletes and sponsors to create a lucrative bonus contract based on past performances.  A contract could be negotiated that would allow healthy athletes to earn the same money as their current contracts, but would offer injured, pregnant, or emerging athletes the stability to make choices that will allow their bodies to heal or develop correctly.


The unchangeable base salary amount should be enough for the athlete to train at the level expected by the shoe company.  The amount should also be acceptable to the shoe company even if the athlete is unable to compete or compete up to the performance standard of the contract.  Even if the athlete is not competing, most are still working in different ways.  The athlete is working on rehab which takes twice as long as healthy training.  They are also tweeting, using Facebook, appearing at events, working with kids, and being a walking billboard by always being in the gear.  The amount should be acceptable for that type of work.  The shoe company could also add in extra appearances for each period of non-racing.  This compromise would be easier on the athlete than reducing their pay.    Most elite athletes are driven and goal oriented.  If they are given the tools to train properly, including an unchangeable livable salary, they will compete up to their potential.


The unchangeable salary takes care of the instability of contracts for athletes and offers less risk up front for the shoe company.    As in a typical negotiation both sides compromise for the best outcome.  The athlete, in the end, earns the extra because they are given the tools to perform at a high level.  The company gets what they pay for by providing stability to the athlete.


Our system works for the best athletes when they are healthy and given the tools to succeed.  There is still work to do with recent post-collegiates, emerging athletes and field event athletes.  Athletes need to be funded with a livable wage for the United States to continue to have the best Track & Field team in the world.    For example, athletes that are coming out of college are often left with few options.  If they are not good enough to join a shoe sponsored group, they are often left to struggle on their own or with one of the other under-funded groups that exist.   Field event athletes and their coaches are not allowed to use a lot of facilities due to liability.  Also, top athletes that have struggled with injuries are often left without support due to reductions or terminations.  Scott Bauhs was left without a contract after making the world team in 2011, and I have been without any support after struggling with injuries after my 6th place finish at worlds in 2009.  My next post will discuss group funding, including the NCAA regulations that keep post-collegiates off the track.


There is never a perfect system and the sport of track & field will continue to evolve.  I have been involved in a few High Performance meetings for USATF.  They know the problems and want to make changes.  However, it all comes down to money.  As an athlete, if you want to make a difference join the TFAA, http://trackandfieldathletesassociation.org/ to add your voice to the cause.  I would also suggest athletes attend the USATF Annual Meeting and represent the athletes on a committee.  As a fan or sponsor, consider ways to support the sport of track & field.  That can include attending meets, becoming a member of USATF, watching track meets on TV, sponsoring track & field athletes or their coaches and offering your facilities for training.

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