Whether an act of will, independence or marketing genius, the recent decision by Brooks Running-sponsored runner Nick Symmonds not to compete with the Nike-sponsored U.S. team at this month’s IAFF World Championships still has people talking.
The entrepreneurial runner earned a spot on the team that will compete in Beijing starting Aug. 22, after winning the 800 meters at the U.S. Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore. in June. But unlike his fellow American world championship qualifiers, Symmonds balked at signing the Statement of Conditions that would have required that he wear the designated USTAF team uniform for all team functions, while in China.
A Brooks spokesman declined to say Wednesday whether Symmonds consulted with any of the company’s executives before he went public with his decision. Nor was there any indication from the Seattle-based $500 million brand how he might be used in marketing down the line. Symmonds did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
In its 101st year in business, Brooks Running, a Berkshire Hathaway-owned company, has a reputation for pitching friendlier, more approachable branding than juggernauts like Nike and Adidas. Brooks’ “Run Happy” campaign includes advertising and international events. Symmonds’ independent thinking may be something Berkshire Hathaway’s chairman and ceo Warren Buffet can appreciate. A Berkshire Hathaway spokeswoman did not respond to comment Thursday.
A Brooks spokesman said, “Central to our purpose of inspiring everyone to run and be active is supporting professional athletes in their ambition to be at the top of their game and pursue it with vigor. Core to their success are years of support that begin with parents and coaches, continue with clubs and, for those at the highest level, culminates in brand sponsorship. While we’re disappointed Nick Symmonds won’t realize his dream to represent Team USA at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing, we applaud his leadership in creating a dialogue around athletes’ rights. We will continue to support him on and off the track as a passionate ambassador for our sport and our brand.”
A Nike spokesman said Wednesday, “Nike is a proud partner and sponsor of USATF. This is a matter pertaining to the rules of the USATF National Team.”
Nike executives and its competitors would no doubt be all ears should Symmonds’ proposal for a SxSW panel be accepted for next year’s event. Before his world championship controversy kicked in, Brooks submitted Symmonds’ pitch for the annual gathering of music, fashion and culture aficionados on “The Selfish Necessity of Sports: Athlete Branding” three weeks ago. Symmonds, who penned his memoir “Life Outside the Oval Office: The Track Less Traveled” (CoolTitles) and cofounded the company Run Gum (caffeinated chewing gum for athletes) last fall, hopes to trace his stretch from a small-town Idaho runner to a six-time U.S. Champion with thousands of followers and sponsorship dollars. As a lead-up to the Olympic trials, Symmonds has promised to share how he “got to the top of the sport and the pointers he learned and used to turn himself into a brand that echoes through the world of athletics.”
Symmonds and Brooks should hear back from SxSW in mid-October. This will be his second attempt to speak at the hypermarketed Austin, Tex., event, since his 2015 talk idea did not make the cut.