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The Business of Track and Field

The Business of Track and Field

Jun 21, 2018

Team

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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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