The subject today is something that most age-group runners probably don’t ever think about. Did you know that few runners actually can make a living as a professional runner? Did you also know that the sport of track and field is suffering nationwide?
This is hard to believe when track and field is the second most participated sport for boys in high school (over 550,000). For girls it is the number one sport with more than 450,000. These figures do not include cross-country. These numbers have continued to grow despite budget and sport cuts at schools. Also consider the continued growth of road races, marathons, trail races, and triathlons and the world of running seems to be on top of its game!
For a sport to thrive there needs to be sponsorship and advertising. Even the largest of track meets are finding it more difficult to get this support. Major invitational meets are going by the wayside. Runners, jumpers and throwers are finding it more and more difficult to support themselves. Sponsorship from athletic companies is often in the form of equipment and for only a very small group there may be some stipend (cash to live on). Athletes have to act on their own behalf (or hire an agent) to seek out sponsorships.
This fall Lucas Verzbicas, a high school 2-mile record setter (8:29) and elite youth triathlete entered the University of Oregon. The freshman phenom walked off the cross-country team just before the season ended. To do what – to pursue a career as a professional triathlete. The motivation can be debated and only he knows for sure if it was that he thought he has a better chance long term at the Olympics in the triathlon versus running or, he can make a living as a triathlete better than a runner. The bottom-line is that track and field lost a key youth to another sport.
There are a number of entrepreneurial types who attempt to capitalize on their status in product development – clothing lines, running specialty shops, sports bars (no, not the drinking kind – the nutritional snack kind). Lauren Fleshman (14:58 – 5k; and national champion) has a line called “Picky Bars” which are gluten free and designed for allergy sensitive individuals.
But, track and field limits advertising athletes can do. Take a look at a cycling jersey – how many sponsors are there? 10? 20? 30? Take a look at a competition track uniform. How many sponsors are there? At most there is ONE allowed. The maker of the uniform – which must comply to about a 2” square in size plus your team name across the chest. And what if your team name is also a sponsor? Good question. What company wants to pay you and not get some recognition (advertising)?
Back to Ms. Fleshman. She decided to put a temporary henna tattoo advertising her Picky Bars. The race officials at the New York City Marathon forced Lauren Fleshman of the Oregon Track Club Elite to remove temporary tattoos. It is not just a USATF rule it is reflected at the international level through the IAAF rules. Yup, you don’t own your own body either. And what if it were a permanent tattoo? Just asking.
There is a ground level move to change the rules to allow our promising young athletes a way to make a living while pursuing their athletic careers. A resolution will be put forth to modify these rules at the USATF national convention in just a couple weeks. I am asking that at the least that you take a look at the issues on this Facebook page: I’m tired of the USATF and IAAF crippling our sport.Or you can read Anthony Famiglieti’s (US elite steeplechaser) take. Or take a look at the Track and Field Athletes Association. This is a fairly recently developed association working to advocate for track athletes.
Taking care of our sport is more than running or volunteering for some races. The big picture is that by working to improve the professional level of our sport, it will help all of us. Just look at what professional sports teams have brought to the Phoenix Valley of the Sun through the sports district. There are playing fields (baseball, football, soccer) across the Valley as a result (no tracks however). The point is that when a sport thrives at the professional level – we all benefit.