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June 21, 2018

The Business of Track and Field

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Last fall we were approached (through her agent) by an up and coming athlete who had made the leap (pun intended) to the world level in Track and Field, Tori Franklin.

Unfortunately, Tori is in an event (Triple Jump) that doesn't currently have a wide audience, and despite having made the US team and competing in the London World Championships in 2017, Tori had no offers from the major sponsors in our business. Oiselle believes deeply in athletes like Tori; she is intelligent, a fantastic public speaker, a feminist, and a truly superior athlete. She needed support for a year, to build her audience, and continue to improve her craft.

When we sign athletes to a basic gear and travel contract, we never structure the period to be more than one year -- we want every athlete to have the chance to have a breakthrough, and potentially sign that larger contract with a big company that will give them the security to train and focus on the next set of World Championships and Olympic Games. As a business we believe Oiselle does well to associate ourselves with athletes like this, and if they generate some exposure for us (primarily at the US Championships which is 95% of the attention the athletes draw in the US) then we can make a business argument to continue the program and invest in up and coming stars like Tori.

Tori exploded this year. She went from 13th at the World Championships in 2017 and a 14.11m jumper to 14.84m jumper and the American Record holder this Spring! We included her in our Runway Slam (a poetry slam/fashion show in Seattle), and in a campaign for upcoming product releases this summer and fall. We realized that once her contract was up in August, we would likely lose her to a greater offer by a bigger company, but that is what the up and comer program is for. When Tori set the American Record, we scraped together a meaningful bonus that wasn't in her contract. For a small, high growth company like Oiselle, this is money that is meaningful to us - but Tori had a performance that was just exceptional.

Three weeks after accepting the bonus, and one week before the USA championships, Tori let us know that she had received a higher offer from another company, and that the other company wanted her to break her contract with Oiselle and compete for them in the US Championships. On one hand we try our hardest to always put the athlete first, but we are also running a business and need the domestic exposure that the USA Championships brings to generate the marketing benefit that allows us to justify the program. We offered to split the difference, that we needed her to honor the contract she signed with us and compete in our uniform for the US Championships, but then we would let her out of the remainder of her contract so she could compete the rest of the summer for the new sponsor - effective July 1.

Tori, unfortunately, made the decision today with her agent to break her contract with Oiselle, go back on her word, and wear another company's logo at the US Championships. We are shocked, upset, and frankly just sad. How can we justify helping post-graduate athletes who need some time to develop, if the ones who do break through break contracts and give the initial benefit to a competitor? We can’t. Even though really there is not a great deal of measurable business benefit to Oiselle unless an athlete has a significant following, we want to sponsor athletes in more niche events: for the good of the sport that we love so much, and to try to help our audience grow to love Track and Field beyond just distance running. It will be more difficult to do that now. Are we going to sue Tori for damages or try to bar her from competing? No....life is short, and so is a Track and Field athlete's career. But there will be one or two more blank jerseys competing in non-marquee events at USAs from now on, and you can draw that directly back to today. 

Is Tori's move to her next sponsor an important one for her? Yes. Could that move have been made with integrity, honoring Oiselle's support in addition to the hopes of her new sponsor? Absolutely. 

These types of unethical business dealings have happened in the sport many times behind closed doors, but we hope that by shining a light on the situation, people realize what damage is done. It is unethical to break a contract, and it is illegal for a company or agent to induce someone to break their contract. 

Still we can’t help cheering for Tori. She was a wonderful athlete to sponsor, and she has a great future. We wish her the best as an athlete. But we hope that everyone realizes that failing to fulfill commitments as a business person on contracts entered into and paid for, is something that hurts the sponsors, future athletes, fans, and the sport. 

Sally Bergesen & Dr. Sarah Lesko

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Comments

Mark | June 21, 2018 at 4:08pm

The Business of Track & Field

Oiselle is an awesome company. Way to stay on the high road. Im going to tell every woman I know, beginning with my wife and daughter that they should buy your gear and spread the word.

Tim Bumber | June 21, 2018 at 4:21pm

Tori

Class act Oiselle!

Karisa | June 21, 2018 at 7:02pm

You guys are amazing, and

You guys are amazing, and such a class act. I will definitely be getting my next pair of capris from Oiselle.

Laura | June 21, 2018 at 9:30pm

Tori

Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing the inside scoop with such grace.

Kristen | June 22, 2018 at 3:21am

I am very sorry to hear that

I am very sorry to hear that this happened to you :( Ethics and integrity should be the cornerstone of athletics and business.

Vicki | June 22, 2018 at 4:15am

Tori

Having been "in the business", what Oiselle does for up and coming female athletes is amazing. Support, both financially and personally, is tough in life after college athletics, and seeing how much Oiselle does for young women, as well as for the sport of running, makes me jealous that my career ended decades ago. So sad that Tori was not able to have more respect and integrity. And what a classy way to handle this, Sally and Lesko!

Emily | June 22, 2018 at 8:19am

Mark,

Mark, Thank you for bringing the brand to your family. Just know, some of the tees, pants and sweatshirts are worn by men if you’d like to have your very own Oiselle apparel! Happy Friday! Emily Oiselle Volée, Hawaii

Angel Mathis | June 22, 2018 at 9:52am

Shaming and additional questions

I don't know. I feel a little bad for Tori in the way she's being shamed in this article. I see that her staying with you would have been best for Oiselle, but would it have been best for her? Assuming it wouldn't have since she made the decision to break the contract. I'm curious, does breaking the contract mean she repaid the funds? I am curious if Tori would have lost the other contract had she not broken the one with Oiselle? I am questioning why she was compelled not to honor the contract and what her side of the story is. Either way, it sounds like a difficult break for both of you and I'm sorry about that. I have to wonder if this shaming by Oiselle is going to make an already difficult life choice of being an athlete that relies on sponsorship dollars even more difficult for Tori, potentially making it harder for her to secure future sponsorship dollars? I also wonder if this argument shouldn't be between two businesses? For example, I don't see that the competitor's identity is revealed in this article, but aren't they at fault? Shouldn't the negotiation to split the contract have been between the 2 businesses? Is making this public and placing blame on Tori for the decision she made just a thinly veiled attempt to divert attention and avoid holding the more powerful player accountable? That would obviously be a harder battle to fight and win. Which makes me think that this is why these unethical business dealings are rarely discussed openly and that there's still a lot of light to shine on this situation, especially with regard to the way that athletes are scapegoated by the larger players. Thanks for writing this and for taking steps in the right direction. Looking forward to your ongoing dialogue on this issue.

Sabrina | June 22, 2018 at 10:11am

Respectfully disagree...

I find this post in poor taste and absent a baseline analysis in positionality, power, race and opportunity in sport. I am saddened to see a brand I respect weaponize their platform against one of their own, someone apart of their “flock” rather than their apparel competitor. To have seen all the other graceful sendoffs Oiselle has given their other athletes, atheletes I personally know to have enjoyed the benefits and privilege of systems which allowed them to secure more economic comfort, more prestige, to have leveraged their systematic privileges for commercial successes— this sends such a terrible signal to upcoming athletes who have not enjoyed these privileges to take a chance on you and this brand. We all have agency and it is reasonable to be disappointed in the choices this athlete made but those choices were not made in a vacuum, not absent the considerable constraints Oiselle regularly states they share— sexism, scarcity, racism and maximizing opportunities in a sport that prizes youth, prestige and whiteness. The aim at this target is wrong. I am so immensely disappointed in this post. I invite you to interrogate yourselves further and deeper. This is so sad.

Tori Franklin | June 22, 2018 at 11:37am

Response to Oiselle

I would like to thank Oiselle for supporting me throughout this year. I loved working with them and I represented them to the best of my ability. I went to multiple events and made appearances without my agent even knowing just because it was what they wanted me to do and I honored that. I’m thankful for the opportunity that they gave me, but there came a time when my performances were improving and my finances weren’t comparable. In the end, this is a business. I extended myself whenever they asked, in the hopes that one day they would be willing to offer me anything. At the end of indoor season I reached out to Oiselle asking for some financial support so that I could perform for them; I was denied. I eagerly came back early in the outdoor season and I was told nothing could be done. Unfortunately, because of where they are in their company, they were not able to meet any needs of mine or even have a discussion about possible solutions. I am a woman that prides myself in integrity and I am a woman that prides myself in honoring my commitment, but I am also a woman who knows my worth and expects a sponsor to give me what I give them. As a young woman I want to seize all the opportunity I have to continue to grow not only my brand but to empower women in our sport, sports in general, and being supportive in speaking up on your value. To be the woman of integrity that I am, I understand what people have probably read, but truth be told, that of which I was given(reimbursed) to help with medical, shoes, and travel, I will be returning the $3500 back to Oiselle. I don’t want companies to feel like I took anything away from them. The bonus that was given to me was a bonus I earned for breaking the American Record. I will be keeping that. I appreciate all that they’ve done for me, but I am really excited about what the future holds and moving forward with my new sponsor. All I’ve got are these two legs and my name and I will remain the same through the sleet and the rain. Thank you to all my fans who have continued to support me. To my coach, my agent, my family and close friends you all have been my boulders, I love you. I’ll see you all from the podium.

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