Run Gum, a company co-founded by U.S. track star Nick Symmonds, has filed an antitrust lawsuit in Eugene, Ore., against USA Track & Field and the United States Olympic Committee, claiming the organizations “jointly agreed to exclude various businesses from sponsoring athletes in return for advertising exposure on athletes’ competition apparel” at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials for track and field, which take place in Eugene this summer.
Run Gum wants to sponsor athletes at the Trials in exchange for logo placement on the athletes’ competition attire, which is currently not permitted save for the usual standard marks on the uniforms produced by approved apparel manufacturers, such as Nike.
“We are simply looking to level the playing field,” Symmonds says. “It is completely illogical and unfair to allow a very small sector of the market to have total control over the advertising space on an athlete’s competition uniform.”
Symmonds is a two-time U.S. Olympian, the silver medalist at the 2013 IAAF World Championships and a contender to make his third Olympic team this year, but he has made headlines lately as a champion for athletes’ rights. He qualified for the 2015 IAAF World Championships in the 800m but was left off the team over a dispute on the USATF statement of conditions that was mandatory for each athlete to agree to prior to accepting his or her spot on the team. Symmonds contended the contract violated the conditions of his individual sponsorship agreement with Brooks Running.
Leading up to the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, Symmonds sold advertising space on his shoulder to Milwaukee-based advertising agency Hanson Dodge Creative, but was forced to cover up the temporary tattoo during competition or risk disqualification. At last year’s national championships, Symmonds broke the finish line tape in the 800m flexing his biceps, adorned with Run Gum temporary tattoos.
To help with the lawsuit, Run Gum has retained the services of antitrust specialists Hausfeld LLP—a firm known for its representation of Ed O’Bannon in the landmark antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA. When Sports Business Daily reached out to USATF about Run Gum’s lawsuit, spokesperson Jill Geer said “We are unaware of the lawsuit and have not been served. In any circumstance, we do not comment on pending litigation.”
News of the lawsuit was widely discussed on social media Wednesday. Performance drink manufacturer BeetElite tweeted, “Huge for all non-apparel sport products. Massive appreciation for everything @ & @ are doing.”
Run Gum is a sports supplement brand selling performance chewing gum with caffeine. Symmonds co-founded the company with his coach, Sam LaPray, in 2014.
“At Run Gum, we believe that people matter and performance matters,” LaPray said of the lawsuit. “We have helped to motivate and fuel thousands of athletes, and now we want to put cash in their pockets and help them achieve their Olympic dreams.”