USATF Convention, Day 2: Track & Field about to hit the Great White Way, by Elliott Denman, note by Larry Eder

Gateway Arch, St. Louis.jpgGateway Arch, St. Louis, Missouri, photo by

Friday, December 2, 2011 was a day of learning for many....

Day two of the USATF convention kept many busy. The highlight for me was the AAC meeting where uniforms and logos were discussed. It was obvious that the meeting would be heated, as there were misunderstandings on both sides.

Credit should be given to Jon Drummond and Benita Fitzgerald Mosley for organizing the meeting. Credit should also be given to manufacterer reps from Nike ( John Capriotti), Saucony (Mark Bossardet), Reebok (Patrick Joyce), adidas (Spencer Nel), Meet management (Ian Stewart), marketing (Rich Kenah), IAAF (Bob Hersh) and Mike McNees from USATF. Max Siegel provided some strong observations. Credit Stephanie Hightower for stepping in and keeping the meeting in perspective. The information provided was like a Marketing 101 master's class in real live, day to day brand marketing.  

I was asked not to write anything during the event, and I did not. Apparently, some others did twitter things, and while it was not said outright until mid meeting not to video or twitter, it again shows the lack of appreciation for corporate privacy which many companies dearly protect. Assuming that the meeting (I was asked to leave mid-way through) was a good starting point for a discussion on how to improve the marketing of the sport, here were the themes that I heard and was asked to comment upon:

It seems that many athletes believe that if they are allowed to put more logos on their uniforms, ala NASCAR, the coffers will open and money will flow. It does not seem to be the case. 

The more logos on uniforms, the less valuable the sponsorship is, in the eyes of the footwear companies and major IAAF sponsors. IAAF's agency, Dentsu, carefully guards all advertising opportunities and logo and board sponsors are key to sports survival.

Meet Directors will not give away their sponsorship or branding opportunities. It was noted that if an athlete takes off their singlet after an event in UK, which diminishes the value of AVIVA, the major sponsor of the seven meetings in UK, the athlete looses sponsorship dollars. The fact is, five meets in European indoor season have shuttered their doors, due to lack of sponsorship and or tv coverage. It is a tough economic time in sports, and has been since 2008.  

The theme: if you want more money, if you want more sponsors, you need to understand the sponsor's needs and find ways to bring both the athlete and sponsor needs together.  

Consider this? Use the NASCAR idea for a second. Most consumers, when asked will know one of the 2o plus sponsors of a NASCAR driver. NASCAR goes out of their way to promote all major sponsors, just watch the culture around a race finish.  

Sponsors want positive media from sponsorship. Stories about athletes in media give consumers strong feelings about brands and that is what many sponsors are looking for. Non-endemic sponsors, or non running related sponsors, are not flocking now to track and field athletes, and part of that, is the way we have been perceived in the sport business.

When athletes speak on TV, do they thank their sponsor first, or do they thank God and their family? Think about it! Watch NASCAR, athletes thank their sponsors, first, family, etc. Sponsors need to get benefits from sponsorship.

IAAF will introduce rule in January where manufacturers logo and one other logo allowed on uniform. Non-commercial club name, logo may be discussed shortly. This will apply for non IAAF major championships, including Samsung series.

Max Siegel, new Marketing consultant for USATF, suggested that there may be opportunities in ethnic marketing, local marketing, health marketing for athletes to consider. 

Annual sponsorship from footwear companies in US for running is approximately $100 million a year. Majority of sponsorship comes from Nike and adidas, but all brands (we count 43) support sport from athletes to numbers for local races.

Note that NBA, MLB, NFL have one logo on uniforms besides manufacturers. NASCAR cars average $25-30 million in cost per year. Dale Earnhart (Max Siegel represented Earnhart) raised more for sponsorship as his brand (his name) was developed and respected. Athletes must look at themselves as brands.

It was obvious that meet directors, footwear sponsors, major sport sponsors are going to be very hesitant about giving their prized sponsorship logo space away. Athletes need to look out of the box, perhaps search out a key sponsor before they go to footwear sponsorship.

It is obvious that athletes, managers, sponsors need to hold more sessions so that all can be on the same page. For athletes, if they seriously want to see more money in the sport, then they have to understand what corporations want when they sponsor an athlete, what they are looking for in return for their dollars. 

As someone who spends most of his days looking for advertisers for 20 magazines and 28 websites, understanding the needs and how companies work, especially in tough economic times like these, are key to my success. Take the time to appreciate the needs of a potential sponsor and see how your needs may help the sponsor fulfill some of their marketing or branding concerns. Communications is key. Contentious communication gets one no where.  And worst of all, calling some one or something names on twitter will just make sponsors question the validity of people who poorly behave. 

President Hightower said it best, take the time to understand each other.

Elliot Denman, our man in the meetings, wrote about Day 2 at the USATF convention:
ST. LOUIS - Track and Field's about to hit the Great White Way.
USA Track and Field, the national governing body for the flagship Olympic sport, will soon install its giant video board above New York City's Times Square, as a key element in its campaign promoting the US Open Track and Field Meet coming to Madison Square Garden, Saturday night, Jan. 28, 2012.

"I can't tell you its exact size right now but I can tell you it's going to be big, very big," said USATF Interim Ceo Michael McNees at a "Coffee With The CEO And Board" discussion Friday at USATF's Annual Meeting.

The video board, and the meet itself, are being staged in partnership with Madison Square Garden, partly in reaction to the loss of the classic Millrose Games, which moved uptown to the Armory Track Center on 168th Street and will be held at its new location on Feb. 11.

The US Open is planned as a fast-paced, high-quality meet dotted with international athletes and supplemented by local scholastic, collegiate and club teams annd athletes, at the completely renovated Garden facility above Penn Station. It will run from 7 to 10 p..m, taped and telecast by ESPN, and screened on Sunday, Jan. 29.

Jamaica dash greats Asafa Powell and Veronica Campbell are among the first major international invitees.

Do not, however, expect, to see Usain Bolt running at the Garden.

"Usain Bolt will never, never, never, never run indoors," said Teddy McCook, the Jamaican who is the IAAF Area Representative for the North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletic Association (NACAC.) "His coach would never allow it. Usain Bolt (at 6-feet-4) is just not built for running 60 yards, or 60 meters, indoors."

Bolt's presence at a Garden meet, many think, could lead to a sellout crowd, something the Garden hasn't seen for a track and field meet in decades.

"It would be 18,000 (fans) at the least, but he won't even think about it," said McCook. "It will never happen - never, never, never."

While the scheduling of the Jan. 28 meet has gained general applause, McNees and other members of the USATF are the first to admit that the group has long suffered from a fractured membership and fractured communications.

Spearheaded by Interim CEO McNees and President Stephanie Hightower, USATF readily acknowledges it has major problems in these spheres, but they aren't sitting on their hands, either. At last, they are taking corrective measures. A much-improved website, featuring in-depth athlete biographies, is one phase of it. And a big new marketing and promotional push is another.

"We aren't even close to reaching our potential, and that's pretty clear," said Hightower, at the first of these two scheduled "Coffee With The CEO And Board" sessions at the Annual Meeting, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

"That's why we are wide open to new ideas," said Hightower. "That's why we're here. That's why we're determined to be pro-active, in a lot of ways, heading into Olympic Year 2012."

Retaining its membership - in average year at least 40 percent of USATF's membership base, primarily in its youth constituency, simply disappears - is another big part of it. And growing its adult membership base is a major corollary.

"We need our people to know you don't have to leave USATF just bcause you're 18 years old," said McNees. "Track's something you can do competing at every level. Not everybody has the ability, or the potential, to compete in the Olympic Games of the World Championships. But there's a place in the sport whatever level you're at."

A key to all that is continued growth of the club system, where local clubs provide competitive opportunities that the national governing body cannot do on its own.

But there's a major debate going on within the club system, too. Just as many elite, world-class athletes decry the USATF's prescribed limitations on corporate logos on competition uniforms, primarily at major, televised events, a situation that pompted long, heated and still unresolved debate within USATF's Athletes Advisory Commiteee yesterday -- the clubs are beginning to fight the same battle.

With the USATF Fall Cross Country Championships coming up in Seattle next weekend, many clubs are faced with the task of acquiring new uniforms because their old logoed-ones failed to adhere to USATF size regulations.

Many ascribe these regulations to USATF's contractual ties to the Nike Co. - its principal corporate sponsor as well as sponsor of the Olympic Trials late next June in Eugene, Oregon, the heart of Nike territory. Call it one more hot potato issue.

(Editors' note: Corporations very carefully protect their logos and their brands. It should not be surprising that our sport's sponsors protect their logos and sponsorship opportunities.)

Unlike previous procedures, at least these things are now out in the open. Little now is swept under the carpet. The lines of discussion remain open. That, in itself, represents progress. And a myriad of topics continue to wafts through the Haytt Regency meeting rooms as the Annual Meeting - due to wind up Sunday morning - heads into its homestretch.

McCook can't understand why the USA, home of so many world-leading athletes and the acknowledged "World's No. 1 Team," makes no effort to bid for a future World Outdoor Championships. "It's very hard to believe that there's not a single stadium in a counry as big as yours that could stage the World Championships," he said. "If you had just a single stadium like that, it could be used for so many great events. I just can't believe a facility like that doesn't exist."

With nearly 40 Jamaica high school teams making an annual pilgrimage to Philadelphia's Penn Relays, McCook urged American high schools to repay that interest by embarking on trips to leading Jamaica meets. Big problem, however, are the restrictive rules in many states  making such trips virtually impossible.

Just as was done at the 2009 Berlin and 2011 World Championships, the three racewalking events on the program of the 2012 London Olympic Games will be held completely apart fom the main stadium - in London's case at an iconic park location just outside Buckingham Palace. "I guarantee you it will be a spectacular setting," said Bob Hersh, vice pesident of the IAAF Council.  The men's and women's 20K races, and the men's 50K, will be staged over an L-shaped 2K loop route.

Large crowds will line the route. many in paid grandstand seats, others in a free, standing area. "There's just one negative to it," said Hersh. "And that's because these races will have to share the park with beach volleyball (to be staged in an adjacent area.)  "That's something we (the IAAF) could do nothing with," said Hersh. "That was beyond our control."

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