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USA Track & Field repeals controversial rules

March 13, 2012

USA Track & Field has repealed restrictions on uniform advertising that angered athletes across the country, but it remains to be seen whether athletes will take advantage of their renewed freedom.

The board of directors of USA Track & Field, headquartered in Indianapolis, decided recently to repeal guidelines that were handed down last year. Under those rules, only the athlete’s name, his or her club’s name or logo and the manufacturer’s name or logo could appear on uniforms. And those names and logos were to be small, 30 square centimeters to 40 square centimeters.

The repeal means athletes can turn their bodies and uniforms into virtual racecars if they choose to, covering themselves with advertisements.

“This is going to be more beneficial for lesser-known athletes who don’t have contracts with shoe companies,” said David Greifinger, a Santa Monica, Calif., attorney who represents the USATF’s athletes advisory committee.

Shoe companies typically sign top athletes to exclusive contracts, but there are hundreds more who can’t get those deals, either because they don’t rank high enough or because they don’t compete in a popular event.

The repeal comes in time for USATF’s championship road-racing series, which attracts top names in distance running to events across the country with more than $900,000 in prize money. The races, ranging from a mile to the half-marathon, are scheduled in cities across the country this spring and summer.

The first runner to take advantage of the repeal was Oregon-based 800-meter champion Nick Symmonds, who sold the rights to his left deltoid on eBay for $11,000. The buyer was Milwaukee-based Hanson Dodge Creative.

Symmonds offered to wear a temporary tattoo of a sponsor’s Twitter handle under the advertisement, “Your name on an Olympic athlete in 2012.” He won’t be able to wear the tattoo in international competition, which has a different set of uniform-advertising rules.

USATF adopted the rules out of concern for its own contract with Nike, which is worth $9 million under a deal signed in 2009. Interim CEO Mike McNees told IBJ he thought the organization should adopt some kind of uniform-advertising guidelines. Mirroring international guidelines made the most sense.

Geer said USATF’s board repealed the rules because it wasn’t comfortable enforcing another organization’s rules on its own events.

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