Money, Power & the Athlete, by Peter Abraham, note by Larry Eder

Peter Abraham is a keen observer of sports marketing, the digital world and branding, among other things. Peter was behind the superb digital program that the Honda City of Los Angeles Marathon did through the race in March 2011. He is now consulting on branding, sports marketing and marketing.

HIs blog puts most of the concerns of athletes and their marketing, into one document. He has links to Nick Symmonds famous Facebook page, and Toni Reavis' comments as well.

We highly recommend Peter Abraham's blog, which can be found, with the complete article at

RBR understands that USATF is putting a panel together to discuss logos, branding of athletes and the like at the upcoming USATF convention.

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Money, Power, and the Athlete

Unless you're living in a cave somewhere, you've no doubt been bombarded with an alarming number of recent stories involving institutional corruption and arrogance: The Penn State scandal, News Corp., FIFA, and Wall Street have all been in the news lately for these reasons. Corruption is nothing new--you could go back to the beginning of recorded history and find plenty of examples. Only yesterday I tweeted about how our own Congress bowed to lobbying pressure and classified pizza as a "vegetable" for the sake of school lunches. Even our children's health is for sale! I got more retweets from this one item than I had for any other of my 2,000 tweets.  Clearly, I had struck a nerve.

I try to see the effects of cultural trends in sports. And institutional arrogance is impacting sports in many ways, but most obviously in the relationships between professional athletes and their governing bodies. Three places jump out at me immediately:  The NBA strike, pro cyclists' ambivalence toward the UCI, and the anger of elite runners towards the IAAF

While the NBA strike is well-chronicled on a daily basis, the UCI and IAAF situations aren't as well-known to the public. But they're both interesting.

I've followed professional cycling since I raced bikes in college. During that time, I've witnessed a steadily crumbling relationship between the riders and cycling's global governing body, the UCI. Like most governing bodies, the UCI enjoys a monopoly whose power lies in being the one group authorized by the International Olympic Committee to send athletes from their sport to the Olympics. So all of the world's national governing bodies have to play by the UCI's rules. And the UCI becomes all about...the athletes?  Sorry, no. They exist solely to further their own agenda of money and power. I completely lost faith in the UCI when they took a $100,000 bribe donation from Lance Armstrong in 2002. To this day the organization denies that it was a conflict of interest.

So it's no surprise that rider anger has been steadily growing under the incompetent management of UCI Chief Pat McQuaid. Riders and teams have recently been threatening to start their own breakaway league, and sooner or later I believe that will happen.

The IAAF is track and field's global governing body. They hold even more sway over their sport than the UCI. And that's because track and field would barely exist as a competitive sport without the Olympics. So the IAAF has enormous leverage. Cycling, by comparison, is beholden much more to the Tour de France than its own governing body. Athletes for years have chafed at the IAAF's restrictive logo rules, which allow only a single tiny sponsor logo on a runner's uniform. That prevents runners from signing up sponsors and making a living, because most sponsors want their logo "on the car," like NASCAR. The IAAF perpetuates this draconian policy so that athletes' individual sponsors (from which the IAAF makes nothing) don't compete for TV time with the sponsors on the bib at big meets (from which the IAAF makes a lot of money).

While elite athletes, managers, and sponsors have discussed this situation for years, now it's become a public dialogue. America's top 800 meter runner, Nike athlete Nick Symmonds, has started a Facebook page devoted to the issue. I think it's a positive sign that we're having a public discussion about the situation. Unfortunately, however, the IAAF may not do anything about it. As Toni Reavis pointed out in his excellent response to Nick's post, governing bodies don't care much about the needs of the athlete.

He's right, of course, and the sad thing is that without a strong system of compensation for athletes, we really don't have much of a sport left. Drunk on its own power, the IAAF is strangling the very sport that it manages.

I, for one, am anxious to see how this all plays out, in all three instances. The one thing I do know is that once the genie is out of the bottle, and the athletes find their voice, the problem won't magically go away.

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