Friday, January 20, 2017
In addition to building a team of amateur runners, Oiselle sponsors a number of professional athletes. Kate Grace was the first of the sponsored athletes, signing with Oiselle in 2012. Last year Kate won the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 800m, and she made the Olympic finals in the same distance.
Kate Grace’s sponsorship contract with Oiselle expired at the end of 2016, and Oiselle recently posted a classy goodbye.
A 2011 Yale University graduate, and now an Olympian, Kate Grace is talented, promising, and instantly likeable. She has already accomplished a great deal in the running world, but she is likely to accomplish even more. Kate Grace is on record as praising Oiselle as incredibly supportive of her and full of people with whom she has strong relationships.
So why didn’t Kate Grace and Oiselle sign a sponsorship contract for 2017 and beyond? This is a question I may pose to my negotiation classes.
To be clear, everything below is pure speculation. I have no inside knowledge. I do not know anyone at Oiselle or Kate Grace personally.
Assuming no personal fallouts, the most obvious reason for Kate Grace to move on is financial. Oiselle is still a niche brand and now that Kate is an Olympian, she is likely receiving much more lucrative offers.
But if I were on the Oiselle management team, and I wanted to keep Kate Grace as a sponsored athlete, I would be creative with the contract offer terms. Oiselle may not be able to match the cash offers of the larger companies, but Oiselle could do something like offer significant equity in the company, which larger companies are highly unlikely to do. Oiselle could also offer Kate Grace a longer-term contract than some of the big companies that will probably only want to sponsor her at her peak. Finally, Oiselle could offer her a spot on their board of directors and/or employment in another role, which may last past her running days. All of those options would be creative ways to negotiate a contract to keep top talent.
If not Oiselle, then who will sponsor Kate Grace? It is risky to predict, but I think New Balance is the best fit, based on brand and values. That said, New Balance already sponsors quite a number of strong female distance and mid-distance runners. ASICS or Adidas probably need to sponsor someone like Kate Grace the most, so they will probably throw a lot of money at her. Nike seems to have the deepest pockets, but I would be surprised if Kate Grace signed with them after how they, allegedly, treated Boris Berian, and what her fellow Oiselle athlete Kara Goucher had to say about the Nike Oregon Project.
Update, 1/28/17: Well, this is somewhat surprising. Kate Grace recently signed with Nike. While Nike has gotten some bad press over the past year and is seen by some as the anti-Oiselle, Nike does have a rich track & field history, is an official sponsor of the U.S. Olympic team, has amazing facilities (including a tree-lined track), and was founded by a middle distance runner and his track coach. I am willing to wager that Kate Grace entertained multiple offers. I wish I could see the terms and analyze what influenced her. As mentioned in the original post, Nike probably has the deepest pockets and they could have blown the other offers out of the water from a financial perspective. Also, Nike has focused on track & field more intensely, for a longer period of time than most, if not all, of its competitors. Regardless of the terms and the sponsor, I do wish Kate Grace the very best running going forward.