Revolutionizing Athlete Sponsorship in Track and Field

The U.S. Track & Field Olympic Trials this year have seen a rise of unsponsored athletes standing out from the crowd. These athletes, totaling 35, are part of Bandit Running’s Unsponsored Project which aims to challenge the traditional model of athlete sponsorship. Instead of athletes having to purchase their own gear adorned with logos of major brands, Bandit Running provides them with all-black, logo-less apparel. This innovative approach also includes short-term endorsement deals for the athletes, offering them a platform and covering expenses during the trials.

Tim West, the co-founder of Bandit Running, expressed the company’s desire to create a new sponsorship model that benefits amateur and sub-elite athletes. By providing support to those at the early stages of their careers, West believes that the entire sport can grow and thrive. The built-in release clause in Bandit’s deals allows athletes to easily transition to traditional sponsorship offers if they arise during the trials, making the process flexible and beneficial for the athletes.

Courtney Okolo, a 400-meter runner and gold medalist from the 2016 Rio Olympics, exemplifies the difficulties faced by unsponsored athletes. Despite previously being sponsored by Nike, Okolo found herself without support during her current training and competition period. The high costs associated with participation in track and field events, such as travel, accommodation, and gear, can pose significant financial challenges for athletes like Okolo. The Unsponsored Project provides a much-needed lifeline for athletes like her who are navigating the competitive world of track and field without a major sponsorship.

For athletes like Brandee Johnson, who has been juggling multiple jobs while pursuing her Olympic dreams, the Unsponsored Project offers a ray of hope. Johnson, a 26-year-old unsponsored track athlete, sees the project as a way to not only support her goals but also align herself with a movement that is making a positive impact on the community. The financial burden of training and competing at the highest level can be overwhelming for athletes without major sponsorships, and initiatives like the Unsponsored Project provide much-needed assistance and encouragement.

As the landscape of athlete sponsorship continues to evolve, projects like Bandit Running’s Unsponsored Project are paving the way for a more inclusive and supportive environment for up-and-coming athletes. By challenging the status quo and offering opportunities to athletes who may have otherwise been overlooked, these initiatives are reshaping the way we view athlete support in the world of track and field. With continued innovation and collaboration, the future looks bright for unsponsored athletes seeking to make their mark on the sport.


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