London 2012 Watch: U.S. Runners Get Creative with Sponsors


While the NBA experiments with sponsorship of jerseys in its D-League playoffs and NASCAR drivers walk around with so many advertisements on their jumpsuits that it’s hard to remember exactly who is aligned with what, it is much harder for athletes for lower-profile sports to drum up those kinds of sponsorship dollars.

However, two U.S. national-team runners are finding ways to earn a few extra dollars in innovative ways. Steeplechase runner Anthony Famiglietti has started to sell off real estate on his racing jersey so that he can have extra cash for travel and training, NPR reports. His endorsement deal with a shoe company got pulled when the arthritis in his foot kept him from wearing their shoes anymore.

“If the shoes don’t fit, there’s really nothing you can do,” Famiglietti told NPR. “There’s only one shoe that I can wear, of the thousands of shoes on the market. And trust me, I’ve tried everything. Zappos probably hates me.”[more]

Once the shoe deal fell through, Famiglietti started to seek donations on his website, Reckless Running. He randomly selected one donor, whose son’s names appeared on his shirt at a race. Famiglietti can’t wear sponsor names in Olympic Trial races or at the Games themselves, but in the meantime, he’s making what he can to get by. He’s also offering more than a logo placement. As he wrote on his website in announcing the winner of the jersey placement above,

Grey and Reid Ellington you are on my racing singlet congratulations!!!! If any of you donated and want me to tweet or promote your business or cause on social media let me know and I’ll post something for you.

Meanwhile, America’s top 800-meter runner, Nick Symmonds has taken a similar tack, but he’s not offering a shout-out on his shirt. Symmonds took the novel approach of an eBay auction to rent space on his shoulder for a sponsor’s Twitter handle. He explained the conditions on his eBay page:

Should the winner of this auction be a corporation, I will wear its Twitter name on my left shoulder when allowed to do so by governing bodies and, after reviewing the quality of the corporation’s products, endorse them entirely provided my endorsement does not conflict with any of my current sponsors. (Nike and Melaleuca).  Along with this valuable advertising space (4.7 billion viewers during 2008 Olympic Games), I will tweet a message of support for the auction winner on the first of every month during 2012 from my personal Twitter account, @nsymm800, which currently has over 4500 followers.

“The manufacturers of the clothing, if they don’t want to have logos distracting from their beautiful outfits, I understand that,” he told NPR. “However, for someone to tell me what I can or can’t put on my body is absurd.”

“My No. 1 goal, aside from making the Olympic team and winning a medal, is to bring awareness to how many struggling athletes there are out there — and wouldn’t be if we could just lift these regulations and allow athletes to pursue individual sponsorships a little more freely,” he also commented to Sports Illustrated.

The temporary tattoo winner, paying $11,100 in January, was a Wisconsin-based active lifestyle marketing firm, Hanson Dodge Creative. Symmonds is wearing the company’s Twitter name prominently displayed on his left shoulder throughout the season, while also serving as an advisor to the brand.

“We liked Nick’s innovative approach to raising awareness by leveraging the power of social media in support of his racing efforts,” HDC’s founder and CEO Ken Hanson in a press release. “Nick’s talent goes beyond track and field. He’s also an active climber, hiker, fisherman, kayaker and outdoor enthusiast. We share the same mission, to make the world more active and work with the world’s best brands to do that.”

While Symmonds has to cover up the tattoo before Nationals or during the Olympics themselves, it’s certainly one way to shoulder the costs of being an Olympic athlete in these cash-strapped days.