USATF opens advertising

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — [b]Track and field athletes may have more opportunities to attract sponsors in future after the sport’s international governing body on Friday opened the door to more corporate logos on uniforms.

A new rule will allow two logos on an athlete’s uniform, that of the manufacturer and another sponsor, the latter a new feature that is planned to come into effect on Jan. 1, 2012.

The decision could be a huge boost in financial security for athletes.[/b]

“Who knows, you could be seeing Nick McDonald’s running in the Olympics next year.”

Nick Symmonds, Olympic 800-meter runner

Lauren Fleshman, a professional runner for Nike Inc. /quotes/zigman/235840/quotes/nls/nke NKE +0.05% , said having only one sponsor puts a lot of pressure on athletes.

The faltering economy, she said, means “the world’s best athletes can be one bad race or one bad season away from having half their income taken away.”

An additional sponsor “could make it easier [for us athletes] to make a life,” she added.

The rule was put forward by a representative of the IAAF at the USA Track and Field Annual Meeting in St. Louis, during discussions that included prominent track and field sponsors Nike, Saucony, Reebok, and Adidas AG /quotes/zigman/364540 ADDYY +0.46% .

It remained to be seen how USATF, as the national governing body of the sport, plans to enforce the rule. The issue would continue to be discussed among the organization’s board of directors and Athletes Advisory Committee, though there was no timetable for the resolution.

The new ruling affects only international IAAF-sanctioned track and field meets “in the event that such meeting[s are] sanctioned by organizations that do not have their own advertising regulations,” according to an official memo.

The first fruits of the new rule may be seen at the inaugural U.S. Open meet at New York City’s Madison Square Garden on Jan. 28, as well as next summer’s USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. This year’s Championships, broadcast by NBC /quotes/zigman/89307/quotes/nls/cmcsa CMCSA +3.50% , drew 3.2 million viewers.

But even if implemented, the new rule may not mean potentially more sponsors for all athletes — some have manufacturer contracts with an exclusivity clause to ensure the maker’s logo is the only one on an athlete’s uniform.

It was also unclear exactly how much more money athletes stand to make, since most contracts are signed with strict confidentiality rules. Sources familiar with the matter said compensation can range from provisions for housing and equipment to salaries in the six figures, though those contracts are few and far between. Most professional runners are independent contractors for their sponsors, without benefits packages.

Sam Grotewold, manager of professional athletes for the New York Road Runners, which stages the ING New York City Marathon, said the inclusion of more sponsors will benefit everyone in the sport, adding that corporate diversity is a consideration for meet directors, who “don’t want a photo at the starting line with all the same sponsor.”

Grotewold said even with the new rule, athletes should be thinking of ways to advance their public profile beyond just logo displays.

Nick Symmonds, an Olympic 800-meter runner for Nike, is one athlete taking Grotewold’s advice to heart, and is pursuing other methods of attracting sponsorship revenue.

Symmonds became an inadvertent poster boy for athletes’ sponsorship issues after creating a Facebook group in October to vent his frustration regarding rule enforcement that grew to more than a 1,000 members within 48 hours.

Membership of the group, “I’m tired of USATF and IAAF crippling our sport,” now stands at nearly 6,500.

While he hasn’t confirmed any new endorsements, Symmonds said he’s even willing to legally change his last name to satisfy potential sponsors, which is prominently displayed on bibs worn in competition.

“Who knows, you could be seeing Nick McDonald’s running in the Olympics next year,” said Symmonds, referring to the fast-food retailer /quotes/zigman/233369/quotes/nls/mcd MCD +0.21% .