Lost in the excitement of the final days of the Olympic Trials was a minor feud involving Brooks.
Brooks Running Company, of #runhappy fame, are not one of the title sponsors of United States of America Track & Field (USATF) or the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). Nike, of swoosh fame, is an official sponsor of the USATF and a domestic sponsor for the USOC. The Olympic Trials are hosted by USATF which means, Nike gets to have their logo up all over the place and other shoe companies do not. When you fork out big sponsorship money, you get what’s called exclusivity, which means not only do you get to advertise at the meet, your direct competitors do not.
The Nike sponsorship was evident all over the meet with signs and banners reminding me to “Just Do It” and to “Find My Greatness.” A gigantic poster of Bill Bowerman looked down on me as I ate my Chobani yogurt. On the sides of buses Nike told me that this was Galen Rupp’s Track, Galen Rupp’s Town, and Galen Rupp’s Time and that Allyson Felix was London bound in 22 seconds. You couldn’t escape the Nike marketing scheme.
While seeing the swoosh everywhere can get old after awhile, I don’t really have a problem with the concept of Nike being the exclusive shoe company sponsor for USATF. I think that Nike does a lot of great things for the sport of track & field including financial support.
I’ll digress a little to mention that the marketing game in track & field is a high stakes game with large sums of money involved. No wonder non-Nike sponsors were upset when meet officials tried to get athletes to put on the red (Nike) USA jacket for the awards ceremony. After awhile the athletes caught on. Nike athletes sported the red jacket for the award ceremonies and the non-Nike athletes politely declined. When it comes time to compete at the Olympics, the USA uniform is Nike and whether you are a Nike athlete or not, you will have to wear the Nike USA gear for official
Team USA functions (warm-ups, press conferences, competition, medal ceremonies, etc.). Non-Nike aAthletes have gotten very creative in showing off their sponsors even when they are in Nike USA gear. Jenny Simpson did one of the best I’ve ever seen, taking off her New Balance spikes and draping them around her neck after winning the World Championship 1500 meters in 2011. Almost every picture of her after the race has her with the USA flag around her shoulders, a Nike USA uniform on her body, and her bright yellow New Balance spikes hanging around her neck. Jenny is brilliant or someone at New Balance gives some good lessons on what to do after the race.
The other shoe companies were present in Eugene but they had to be creative to gain visibility. Adidas rented out a frat house but I didn’t hear too much about anything they did. New Balance and Saucony sponsored some of the nights at the Wild Duck Café which resulted in the wait staff wearing Saucony shirts or my beer arriving in a New Balance logoed pint glass. Asics rented out a lot on the corner of Agate and East 19th Street for the first weekend only and had some games for kids. The company that fought the most to get some of the market was Brooks.
Brooks rented out a frat house on 18th Street that overlooked the track. They had daily morning runs that attracted 200-300 runners, they had a gait analysis booth, and passed out all kinds of Brooks swag – beannies, water bottles, shirts, a giant hand with a number one finger. Malinda, John, and I did the best we could to make sure Brooks didn’t have to cart any of this stuff back to Bothell, Washington.
Brooks’ most daring move, however was hiring a small airplane to fly above the stadium pulling a banner with their familiar run happy motto on it. I noticed the airplane above the stadium on the final Saturday of the meet. Apparently so did someone from either the USATF, USOC, or Nike. FloTrack reported that it was an oversight on the part of meet management to not reserve the airspace above the track and Brooks took advantage of this. Brooks was warned on Sunday morning with a letter and when the airplane appeared above Hayward Field again Sunday during the meet, three high level Brooks employees had their credentials revoked and were escorted from the stadium. It was the USATF and USOC that did this, not Nike. USATF sited in a press release that the advertising rules had previously been outlined and Brooks was in violation of them.
I did not know any of this as I watched the run happy banner fly overhead both Saturday and Sunday. But I do re-call thinking that that was a pretty clever guerilla marketing move on Brooks’ part. I figured Nike would not be happy but after reading Geoff Hollister’s book, Out of Nowhere, I couldn’t help but laugh to myself that Brooks was doing what Nike used to do. Back in the mid-1970’s when adidas had exclusive sponsorship and ruled the US track & field scene, Nike would look for any creative way to gain visibility.
Geoff Hollister passed away earlier this year. Nike lost one of their original employees with his passing. Hollister loved Nike so he couldn’t be too happy with another company trying to steal some of the marketing share from Nike. But I can’t help but feel like he’d also smile to himself a little at seeing Brooks’ guerilla marketing tactics at the Olympic Trials. It was something right out of the Nike book.