USATF marketer: ‘If there is sponsorship to be had, we will pursue it’

Max Siegel is latest USATF savior

Max Siegel, the new marketing maven for USA Track & Field, has responded to a few questions I sent him. Jill Geer, chief communications officer for USATF, sent me these replies Oct. 19. So I’m late on the uptake. Sorry. Max doesn’t commit himself to any masters track effort, but leaves us hopeful. He says: “There are salable assets for USA Track & Field that haven’t been touched. If there is sponsorship to be had for masters track & field, we will pursue it.” So stay tuned. Have any advice for Max?

Here’s my quickie Q&A with Max. What are your plans, if any, for marketing masters track?

Max Siegel: We are beginning the process of taking inventory of all USATF assets and programs in order to develop a comprehensive marketing, sponsorship and promotional plan. Reaching out to constituencies, ranging from our most engaged to those who feel most marginalized, is part of the process. It’s too early to say what specific plans are for any segment of the sport, but engaging the sport’s core stakeholders is something that must be done before we look to expand.

Do you plan to coordinate marketing with [John Oleski,] the masters T&F Marketing Committee chair?

As I indicated, it is too early to talk about specific tactics. Primarily, MSI will be working very closely with the National Office staff on all our efforts. This is a truly collaborative effort, combining the institutional knowledge and expertise of USATF staff with the experience, programs and contacts of MSI. The National Office will continue to be the main contact for constituencies and committees, but we will be a highly integrated team.

Can you help raise money for masters track specifically?

Expanding USA Track & Field’s stable of sponsors is one of our core objectives and a key way that our work will be measured. There are salable assets for USA Track & Field that haven’t been touched. If there is sponsorship to be had for masters track & field, we will pursue it.

What will Jill Geer’s role be in your USATF operation?

Jill oversees the new Integrated Marketing Communications Department at the National Office and is our primary point of daily contact. Basically, she is my “boss” and leads this effort from the staff side. The change to put communications, marketing, broadcasting and long-distance running and grass roots/membership marketing under one USATF departmental umbrella will streamline our efforts. The staff of MSI and USATF’s IMC department are jelling together very well as a team.

Will you be in contact with USATF Masters T&F Chairman Gary Snyder?

My answer to your second question holds true here.

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November 5, 2011

16 Responses

  1. Terry Parks - November 5, 2011

    They have the Visa series for the elites; why not have a point series like this for the Masters sponsored by Kaiser or some other healthy living Corp for the big Masters Meet — Hayward, Southeast Masters, Western States, to name a few. Then have the Champions of the series awarded at the National Championship.

    The prize money would not have to be big, but it would better than what we have now. We could try to get it on ESPN because if they can show poker, they could surely show at least the highlight of the Kaiser Permenante National Masters Track and Field Championships.

  2. Bubba Sparks - November 5, 2011

    Good idea Terry. Humana, Astra Zeneca and anyone else who sponsors Senior Olympics would be perfect and prove targets.

  3. Jim P - November 6, 2011

    “On a scale of 1 to 10, how excited are you about master’s track and field?” should have been asked.

  4. Ken Stone - November 6, 2011

    Good question, Jim! I’ll bank it for next time.

  5. Rob D'Avellar - November 6, 2011

    Actually, I would target the COMPETITORS of Humana, Astra Zeneca and other sponsors of the Senior Olympics. Companies carve out a specific percentage of their marketing and advertising budgets for target groups, and Humana, etc., may have already tapped out those parts of their budgets directed toward an older demographic.

    Going to the competitors of those companies and pointing out how they are missing out on an older and growing demographic might be a good strategy.

    Insurance companies, especially, have a financial stake in keeping the older population healthy, so carpet bombing the insurance companies with proposals for sponsorships seems right. I would also tie proposals to specific names, faces and achievements in order to give the sport a feeling of “realness”. Just talking about “Masters” won’t float.

  6. Jerry Smartt - November 6, 2011

    Rob, I’m with you. Use me, at 80, as “Mr. Realness.” I ran the Bass Pro half marathon this morning and at the finish there were 400 young ones behind me. 2:31, 11:34 mile pace. My game plan was sub 12s per mile and it worked beautifully. Smartty

  7. Rob D'Avellar - November 6, 2011

    Jerry, you should be the poster boy for the sport. If the marketers were smart, Smartty would be in ad campaigns.

  8. Jerry Donley - November 7, 2011

    “If there is a sponsorship” is a very long way from a committment by USATF to find sponsorships. There is no promise to look for sponsors. I suspect it is highly unlikely USATF and its marketing group will ever go out and look for a sponsor. It sounds like what is really being said is: “If a sponsor walks in the door we will not turn it away. We will pursue it,” nothing more. Jerry Donley

  9. Rob D'Avellar - November 8, 2011

    Unfortunately, that’s probably very true, Jerry. Nobody seems to want to recognize that the population as a whole is aging and that Masters Athletes represent an untapped gold mine when it comes to role models and marketing.

    As the Boomer generation gets older, hopefully somebody is finally going to realize that that segment of the population has a lot more buying power than twentysomethings (to whom most marketing is targeted), many of whom have had to return home to live with their parents because of the economy.

  10. jerry donley - November 8, 2011

    Rob: You are right on. I have pushed this concept for over 20 years using your exact words. USATF and its Foundation have no interest in cultivating the masters. I spent time with them discussing this subject. We are our own means for support and it could be done. It requires a long range program and some patience and some very talented and dedicated people. Perhaps you are the one. Jerry Donley

  11. A Master's Runner - November 8, 2011

    This discussion is interesting because it might show what the real ethos is behind “masters track”–celebration of the disease state itself.

    Why AstraZaneca? Why Humana? Drug companies in particular are in the business of making money by providing purported treatments for disease states. The real money is in management of chronic conditions, requiring ongoing medication, hopefully before the patent rights expire and before any generic successfully prosecutes an ANDA.

    The primary goal of so-called “health care” businesses is to make money, to meet the expectations of shareholders. They do this by selling premiums, and by denying payouts–it is as simple as that. I’ll never forget what an insurance attorney told me many years ago: “Insurance companies are in the business of denying coverage.”

    Why focus on these things? Why characterize masters athletes in terms of one dimension–the disease state? Last time I checked, masters athletes still wore shoes, sweats, tights, shorts and shirts, drove cars, bought throwing implements, used Ipods and mp3 players, and did all the other things that are associated with participating in T&F. Why not characterize them in terms of the activity, rather than in terms of disease?

    If masters athletes have all this money to spend, and actually spend it, why not sponsors like Asics, Brooks, Apple, etc–or more expensive, sport-oriented fashion wear such as Lululemon or Adidas Y3? Or how about another dimension of masters, money? How about banks and wealth management organizations?

    There are opportunities to get niche sponsors on board, who have nothing whatsoever to do with the disease state, but instead with the actual activity, and with some of the qualities embodied by masters athletes that are to be aspired to–such as good physique and social involvement–and not with those qualities that some consider to be regrettably unavoidable, such as disease state.

    Given a bit of time and scant resources, it wouldn’t be too difficult for somebody with a bit of experience to put together a sponsorship prospectus. It would of course be more interesting if it were integrated with a broader, possibly interactive communication network including social networking and blogs such as this one, maybe even a dedicated portal.

    If I were a potential sponsor, I would look for leverage through an association with an organization with a larger budget, such as USATF. I would also look to ensure that core funding for the venture was in place, and would look for not only performance guarantees, but guarantees regarding the stability of the core funding during at least the sponsorship period.

    I would also demand a list of events, and binding commitments to those events. A good scenario would be to find other, specific sponsors for specific events, and make sure the events are in place before more general sponsors could be brought on board. What specific sponsors? Businesses local to where the meet is being held, the best ones possibly being local hotels, restaurants, nutrition stores, hospitals, etc–any business of which participants and their entourages might be likely to avail themselves during their local stay.

    Surely there is some masters T&F athlete who has the time to dedicate to this–perhaps one of you on a guaranteed income, perhaps a loosely-knit community, made up of a coordinator, and local representatives who can take care of putting into place some local meets.

    Who will step forward?

  12. Terry Parks - November 8, 2011

    Master’s Runner you present some good arguments and I hope that you would be one of those who would try to get something going. I think the real problem is not that people don’t want to step forward, but rather how do the people who want change engage USATF to get something going?

  13. A Master's Runner - November 9, 2011

    Of course, the upshot is that essentially nobody competes in masters T&F, excluding road races–which already seem to have an established sponsorship machine. There are no real economies to be had sponsoring masters T&F in a general sense.

    It is a niche activity, that is not currently associated with danger (like ice-climbing), wealth (polo), adrenaline (base-jumping), power and prestige (yachting), sex (beach volleyball), or glamour (pick one). In order for a niche to attract sponsorship, it must have very close ties to its participants, almost to the point of psychological dependency and identification–“I’m an ice climber”, “I’m a base jumper”, etc., not to mention retaining the possibility for growth of the market.

    Does masters T&F in the USA have what it takes to attract general sponsorship, without maintaining any affiliation with USATF? I don’t think so.

    Think about those secondary qualities I mentioned–what is it for masters T&F? It has to be something unique to masters T&F, not something that can clearly be bested by, for instance normal T&F.

    Think about it: using normal associations, who is wealthier than polo players? More death-defying than ice climbers? More powerful and prestigious than yachtsmen? More jacked than base-jumpers? More sexy than beach volleyballers?

    In the popular mind, essentially nobody. Those impressions are based to some extent on observable realities, but they also have been created, in part, by the marketers themselves–they take a look at the landscape, think of what to highlight, or things they can invent, or personalities they can extend, or all the above, and come up with a brand identity. Sometimes they first identify a target market and work backwards from there, shaping the activity in a utilitarian, fictional kind of way. For masters T&F, that brand identity should be one that is salable to a general sponsor.

    What is it?

  14. A Master's Runner - November 9, 2011

    In part, this is why I hold the position I do regarding the current rules and proposed changes.

    “Masters T&F” needs to maintain its ties to all of T&F, because the brand identity of the totality of T&F can serve masters well. Masters cannot be carved out, with its own separate set of rules, and expect to come to the USATF table as a true equal–that is, the “separate but equal” paradigm probably won’t work, because USATF is not bound to accommodate the unique desires of masters T&F if such accommodation comes at the expense of others.

    That is why Siegel says that if there is (dedicated) sponsorship, they will pursue it.

    I don’t think that “masters T&F” has what it takes to go it alone, although I could be very wrong about that. I think that it should stay integrated with the totality of T&F, and that there should be no distinctions or accommodations made on its behalf, FOR ITS OWN GOOD. I would even do away with post-race TUE’s unless, like I said, there was some sort of diminished capacity at work.

    To be fully integrated, masters T&F needs to play by the same rules, so that its interests are aligned with those of T&F in general.

    I know, a problem is that the “interests” of T&F in general, excluding masters, are the attainment of the highest possible level of performance, culminating at the elite level, both nationally and in college, and that they therefore are not particularly interested in masters athletes, who are not on that trajectory.

    I am personally OK with that. The only thing I require is a lane or a spot in the rotation–and if they can provide that, I’m satisfied.

    I think those of you who aren’t satisfied with that really need to look elsewhere than USATF. It will be tough, but not impossible. It might be a bit disjointed at first, but you will be able to shape your own destiny, make decision and take action for yourselves. Although meaningful general sponsorship will I think be difficult to achieve, event-specific sponsorship should be easier. I know nothing about the Senior Games, or whatever they are called, but maybe this could be the reason to start a nationwide senior sporting authority, if that would contribute to, or help solidify, a brand identity that could be used as the basis for a salable brand.

    Sincerely, I wish you good luck if you go that route.

  15. George Mathews - November 10, 2011

    Hello, Business investment (advertising, sponsorship etc) is about return on investment. It’s all about numbers. That’s why some of the companies you refer to are sponsors of the National Senior Games. Humana has 25,000+ potential customers more than the 8,400 USATF has. Seems like I get mail from them every week on the lead up to Medicare heathcare deadline. They aren’t even available in my neck of the woods.
    NSGA T&F National Championships is twice as big as USATF. Where would you invest your money?
    If you want sponsors we need to have an alliance with The National Senior Games and leverage their numbers and marketing appeal.
    We can still run the T&F show the way WE want.
    I don’t know why I do this? I’m guess I just can’t stay out the game. You would think I had owned a business or something. I know we can complain all day long about what is wrong with something but I think it is good to come up with practical solutions. Let’s don’t spend time talking about how we can’t, instead how we can. I have never known the meaning of the word NO except when it comes from a woman.

  16. Jim Procter - November 17, 2011

    Right on George………

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