Professional track and field athletes are committing financial suicide. Not in the sense that they are mismanaging their money but rather in the sense that they are not optimizing their worth. Many people believe that there is no money to be made in this sport for the average professional athlete. They argue that the fan base is sparse and declining on a yearly basis and that track and field events are not drawing spectators the same way major sports in the US manage. Although these points are valid, I will argue that there are hundreds of millions of dollars that can be redirected to the athlete if the athletes take control of their sport.
At this moment, track and field is captained by Nike with Adidas being the first mate. To keep the analogy going, USATF is the Boatswain in charge of maintaining the ship with the USOC taking the duty of Sailing Master, directing which way to sail. Unfortunately, none of these officers have the track and field athletes’ financial interests at heart. These professional athletes are the powder monkeys where only an elite few earn the title of Master Carpenter. It is these few who are portrayed on billboards and in commercials. They give off the appearance that the state of the sport is in good health and simultaneously inspire their peers that one-day—with continued hard work and dedication—they too will someday reap financial benefits.
This current system is nothing but a trap. It is a model that benefits major corporations and an organization that has a monopoly over international competition. It is a shame that in the sport of track and field, a person who is working as an office technician for the USOC is making more money than an athlete who has the tenth best mark in his/her respective event in the country.
Analyzing the economic plight of the profession track and field athlete requires in depth discussion on how the sport operates. Currently, the sport operates on a pure capitalist model. Every athlete showcases their worth by competing against each other. Only the best of the best are offered sponsorship deals with sports apparel companies, win prize money, receive endorsements and receive appearance fees. Besides the prize money that can be won, no one knows what athlete makes what. This secrecy is a factor that track and field athletes do not get paid what they are owed. It’s nearly impossible to determine your value if you can’t figure out the market rate.
Most importantly, capitalism unchecked has been historically proven to be the worst system for the laborer. This holds true for professional athletes. Unions developed to counter balance the influence and power of the corporation. Players’ unions have proven to be extremely beneficial to the financial wellbeing of basketball, football, baseball and soccer athletes. Unfortunately, the fragmentation of the athletes and the lack of awareness, track and field athletes fail to come together and to solidify a plan that will cater to their financial interests. Therefore, when television and sponsorship deals are made, athletes are essentially given the bare minimum to keep them healthy enough to compete.
In the upcoming series of blogs I will focus on why track and field athletes must unionize. Additionally, I will argue that the unionization of track and field athletes will not only benefit the financial needs of the athletes but it will encourage more interests in the sport. Lastly, I will suggest that track clubs should evolve into franchises, which will incite the enthusiasm of the fan base and encourage sustained interest in the sport for the youth.
This blog is not the first attempt to speak on this issue. For example the founders of the Track and Field Athlete Association have for years led this conversation and has attempted to redirect the path of the sport. I have chosen this topic for a blog series to provide another chunk of wood to keep this conversation burning. Hopefully, sooner than later this conversation will garner the intention it deserves. Hopefully, athletes who train all year long to only jump 1 foot further, run a mile 5 seconds faster or throw a javelin 1 meter further will make enough to provide for themselves and families.