Track & field needs to think value for value, not 'thank you'/
Professional track & field athletes are the only pro athletes you'll hear saying "thank you" to their sponsors. Until they start trading value instead of gratitude, we cannot expect any more investment into the sport or the athletes.

When was the last time you thanked your employer?

If you’re like most people, never. You’ve probably never completed a difficult project at work and then made a public show of gratitude to your employer for keeping you employed long enough to <checks notes> do the job you were hired to do, or maybe even go beyond that level in order to create more value for them. But then again, you’re probably not a professional track & field athlete.

With the Olympics possibly imminent, we’re about to see an uptick in the number of social media posts and interviews where pro track & field athletes thank their sponsors.

How does this create value for the sponsor?

“Did our sponsorship of these athletes last quarter expand our market share with key psychographics, position our new product line for a Q1 go-to-market, increase favorability ratings among athletes or build new B2B or P2P relationships that we can leverage across business units?” “No, but several of them thanked us in their Insta Stories.”


Many of the same athletes who thank their sponsors will dedicate a few other posts or interviews lamenting the lack of financial opportunities within the sport, not making the connection between the two.

Sponsors want value in exchange for their investment in an athlete or the sport - not gratitude. No business - shoe company or otherwise - has a KPI for “public displays of gratitude.” No business - at least not one that expects to see next year - is in it for the thanks. Sure, gratitude is a value in many other contexts. It even has a place in professional settings, and even in professional sports. But not as part of a sponsor-property exchange.

Any current sponsor considering raising their investment in the sport or potential thinking about getting involved will hear the words “thank you” and say “That’s it? That’s what I can expect to get? Alright, let’s head over to tennis / soccer / baseball / rugby / hockey …”

When an athlete says “thank you,” they are not doing anything for their sponsor and making some pretty damning admissions about themselves. They are either saying “This is the best I can do” or “I don’t get how all this works.” Both are equally likely, given the unprofessional culture of the sport.

We asked at the end of the indoor track & field season what do track & field’s sponsors expect to get from the sport, and the reverse: what do the athletes and agents offer the sponsors. If the athletes are saying “thank you,” the answer to our questions is most likely: little to nothing, and likely to stay that way.

Photo credit: Phil Roeder / Flickr, under CC BY 2.0.