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Run Gum sues US Olympic Committee for lack of sponsorship opportunities

Douglas Yu

By Douglas Yu+

28-Jan-2016
Last updated on 28-Jan-2016 at 14:05 GMT2016-01-28T14:05:21Z

Run Gum's was established by Olympic athlete Nick Symmonds
Run Gum's was established by Olympic athlete Nick Symmonds

US Olympian-owned business, Run Gum, filed a lawsuit against USA Track & Field (USATF) and US Olympic Committee (USOC) for not allowing it to sponsor individual athletes at the upcoming Olympic Team Trials. 

Under current USATF’s regulation, Run Gum will not be able to advertise their logos on athletes’ uniforms. The company said the USATF and USOC’s conduct violates antitrust laws.

Oregon-based Run Gum is owned by American middle-distance runner, Nick Symmonds.

A lawyer from Hausfeld, the firm representing Run Gum, declined to comment beyond Run Gum's press release.

'Most antitrust cases fail'

Professor Mark Lemley from Stanford Law School said the case is interesting in that antitrust laws generally prevent unreasonable restrictions on competition.

“The claim here seems to be that by preventing sponsorship of amateur athletes, the USOC is restricting competition in the market for providing such sponsorships,” he said.

Lemley said the Run Gum case is similar in some respects to the case that former college athletes filed against the NCAA for refusing to allow them to be paid. The district court in the Northern District of California last year agreed that NCAA’s conduct was an antitrust violation.

Lemley said he’s not able to predict Run Gum's chances of success but said most antitrust cases fail.

“If this one succeeds, Run Gum might force the agencies [USATF/USOC] to change their endorsement policy.  Run Gum can also recover three times any damages they can prove they have suffered.”

Major allegation: not fair to athletes and other businesses

The lawsuit alleges the USATF and USOC co-conspired with other organizations to prevent certain businesses from sponsoring athletes at the trials and says such conduct is illegal.

“USATF, the USOC, and their co-conspirators cannot curtail competition by picking and choosing eligible market participants and excluding the rest,” the lawsuit says.

Olympic trials:  a business opportunity

The Olympic trials draw an “overwhelming” amount of public interest, said the lawsuit, thus, it became an opportunity for companies to boost their businesses.

In the meantime, the Olympic Trials help generate income from individual sponsorships that they need to train and compete without resorting to a second or third job, says the lawsuit.

However, the lawsuit further states, among six “official sponsors,” only Nike is sports-related.

USATF’s CEO Max Siegel and USOC didn’t immediately respond to requests to comment on the case.

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