Now Sponsor Me This…

By Mario Fraioli

Switching gears, Olympian Kate Grace revealed her new sponsor over the weekend, sporting a Swoosh on her chest at the UW Invite on Saturday. Now, it’s a contract year and there’s been a lot of sponsor shuffling happening on the track, road and trails, but this one caught a few people off-guard as Grace’s former sponsor, Oiselle, wasn’t one to shy away from airing its grievances with Nike and their stranglehold on the sport, Oiselle’s two most prominent athletes don’t exactly hold Nike (their former sponsor) in the highest regard, not to mention that none of Grace’s NorCal Distance Project teammates rock a Swoosh on race day. So am I surprised by the signing? Not really, and here’s why: Grace had a breakout year in 2016, winning the Olympic Trials in the 800m and making the Olympic final, where she finished 8th. She’s personable, marketable and connects well with her fans and followers in person and on social media. The combination of those things brings with it a deserving price tag, one that I’m guessing Oiselle couldn’t afford to pay for at this point of the company’s existence. Nike certainly can, and did, seemingly offering Grace enough security to support her training and racing at least through 2020. Could another of the bigger footwear and apparel brands have scooped her up? Of course. It’s an open market and Grace was free to choose which brand(s) she wanted to represent, but when it comes to sponsoring track-focused middle-distance runner, no brand has more money to play with in that arena than Nike. Most other major shoe and apparel brands just aren’t able to dedicate a huge amount of resources toward someone like Grace, who spent a few years on the cusp before making a big breakthrough in her late 20s and races in an event that doesn’t get a ton of consistent mainstream exposure. It’s “up to me to negotiate sponsorships that i am happy with, to support my training…i’m grateful to athletes rights advocates who have spoken up, about what to ask for in contracts to protect yourself…and i understand the differing opinions. just trying to do me,” she recently posted on Twitter. I can’t blame Grace one bit given the reality of the sponsorship situation in athletics these days, but this one is a curious case if you follow the sport closely. Oiselle posted this classy goodbye to Grace on their blog a little less than two weeks ago and Sally Bergesen, Oiselle’s CEO, hasn’t had anything to say publicly on the matter (but she did put out a call to sponsor “#elitegrannies” last week, which is an interesting initiative in its own right). Of course, I could be completely wrong in my commentary, but I’m going to ask some questions to see what I can learn about the situation. Stay tuned!

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