USA Track defends CEO’s $4.2 million 2018 compensation package

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Max Siegel

Less than a week after laying off more than 10% of its staff, Indianapolis-based USA Track & Field released tax records Wednesday that indicate chief executive Max Siegel earned more than $1.2 million in salary in 2018, plus another $3 million in deferred compensation.

The staff cuts were in response to losses stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, and Siegel agreed to a 20% reduction of his base salary. While the tax records offer a financial snapshot from 1-1/2 years ago and indicate that Siegel earned more money than many of his peers running national organizing bodies, a USATF official explained that the total compensation package—listed as nearly $4.3 million on the forms—is misleading.

“I understand the first-look outrage people might have,” said Ryan Wilson, who chairs the USATF board’s compensation committee. “But I think once it’s explained, it makes pretty simple sense.”

Siegel’s base salary in 2018 was $611,000. He earned a bonus of $500,000 and received another $146,160 in “other reportable compensation,” according to the records. He also earned an additional $3,027,250 in “retirement and other deferred compensation.”

Wilson explained that Siegel hasn’t received that money, and it’s expected to be paid out in the next four years.

“That’s the bonuses that are basically sitting in an escrow account—bonuses and some retirement,” he said. “That’s the amount that will be paid out through 2024—money that’s due to Max.”

Even so, the $1.2 salary and bonuses that Siegel was paid out in 2018 is more than other U.S. Olympic officials. Tim Hinchey the chief executive of USA Swimming, for example, received a salary of $721,000 in 2018, according to tax records, which included a base of $200,000. And Tiger Shaw, the head of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, drew a total salary of $802,000.

The chief executive of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, Sarah Hirshland, signed a contract in July 2018 and was paid $600,000 last year with a chance for up to 50% more in bonus money. Her immediate predecessor, Scott Blackmun, however, earned $1.3 million in 2017 (and a year later was paid $2.4 million in severance after his resignation).

“From a CEO perspective, he’s earning these bonuses,” Wilson said of Siegel, “based on taking our operating budget from the $17 million level, which I think is what it was when he took over, and now we’re operating over $40 million. From a CEO perspective, that’s one of the benchmarks to point to.”

The USATF filings indicated the organization had $39.8 million in gross revenue in 2018, an increase of $21 million from 2011, the year before Siegel took over as head of the organization. Siegel is credited with helping the organization secure several new sponsorship agreements with brands such as Toyota, Hershey and Comcast Xfinity. The largest, by far, is the deal inked with Nike in 2015, an agreement valued at $500 million that runs through 2040.

According to tax records, Siegel earned $1,185,844 in 2017 and an additional $26,500 in listed retirement money. Wilson said that listing the $3 million in deferred compensation on the 2018 forms was a source of contention with the organization’s tax auditors.

“Ultimately, you end up doing what the auditor tells you to do, so we had to file in such a way,” Wilson said. “It balloons his income to a pretty insane amount, but it’s not what it appears to be. At first glance, it seems ridiculous, but then you dive into the numbers and it makes a bit more sense.”

USATF is among several organizations in the Olympic world that is affected by the novel-coronavirus pandemic and the one-year postponement of the Tokyo Games. To stem the losses, Siegel accepted the temporary pay cut, and USATF laid off staffers earlier this month.

“With the fluidity of the COVID situation right now, everything on our business level needs to be reviewed to see how we can manage this all and mitigate any problems over the next year or year and a half,” Wilson said.

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