Two-time Olympian Nick Symmonds is once again auctioning off advertising space on a place very near to him: his own skin.
In an eBay listing titled “9 Square Inches of Skin on an Olympian,” Symmonds is giving potential sponsors a chance have a logo, URL, or social media handle emblazoned on his right shoulder in the form of a temporary tattoo for the 2016 outdoor track and field season. (His left shoulder is already reserved for his caffeinated gum company, Run Gum.) The bidding will conclude on May 5, roughly one week before Symmonds is scheduled to compete in his first race of the season at the Shanghai Diamond League meet.
Symmonds has rented shoulder space before. In 2012, Milwaukee-based marketing agency Hanson Dodge paid $11,100 to have the middle distance runner display its Twitter handle on his skin. At the time, Hanson Dodge’s president for strategy and growth told the New York Times that the investment “paid off exponentially.”
Symmonds is ensuring similar dividends for anyone who takes a bet on him this time around, but is open about a few potential caveats. As he notes in his eBay listing, his has yet to make the U.S. Olympic team. Whether or not he does will depend on how he fares at the U.S. Olympic Trials in early July. As defending U.S. men’s 800-meter champion, however, his chances of making the team are pretty good.
Then there’s the issue of what Symmonds calls the “antiquated” rules of governing bodies like the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which mandate that athletes conceal all forms of advertising on their bodies during competition. Such constraints mean that Symmonds will probably have to tape over any logos that appear on his shoulders if and when he competes in Rio. Despite, or, indeed, because of, such bureaucratic obstacles, Symmonds promises potential advertisers that he will be a highly proactive brand ambassador.
“Though these absurd rules certainly diminish an investment in an athlete, please know that I will put in extra effort to ensure that the winner of this auction realizes a fantastic return on investment,” the eBay listing states.
As one might expect from someone who leases a section of his upper body on the Internet, Nick Symmonds is okay with attracting attention to himself. He has long been a vocal critic of USA Track and Field’s stringent uniform rules, arguing that they prohibit less high-profile athletes from effectively marketing themselves and hence making a decent living. Last summer, Symmonds was dropped from the U.S. World Championships team after refusing to sign what he felt was a poorly worded USATF contract.
The current eBay auction might be best understood as another protest of sorts. Though Symmonds readily admits that he’s also doing it for personal financial gain and to give his current sponsors additional exposure, he is adamant that the principal purpose of the auction is to inform the pubic about the plight of the average professional track and field athlete in the United States.
“America loves the fact that Team USA is the best team in the world, but I don’t know that we are going to be able to maintain our status as number one in the world, if things continue the way that they are,” Symmonds says. “The governing bodies are losing money, and because of that they are slighting the athletes even more. Athletes that are Olympic medalists live below the poverty line. We cannot continue to sustain our dominance in the world of track and field unless the rules change.”
We reached out to a few U.S. track and field stars to comment on Nick Symmonds’s latest stunt.
Honestly, good for Nick. It worked well four years ago and I’m sure it will again. Nothing wrong with thinking outside the box with sponsorships. –Kara Goucher
I think the sponsored tattoo idea is really smart by Nick. I’m glad he’s out there driving the endorsement side of the sport because it’s going to open up opportunities for the next generation of track athletes. Personally, I feel extremely fortunate just to have a contract, so you won’t see me rocking the boat. –Ryan Hill
Nick and I don't necessarily see eye to eye on everything, but I have enormous respect for him. His courage and determination to fight for athlete's rights, as well as the rights of all human beings is beyond admirable. As for his eBay auction, I hope he is able to use the publicity to raise awareness for all athletes and their difficulties in marketing themselves due to restrictive regulations. And in all honesty, I bid $5,000 to help further his cause. I wish him the best, and just maybe I'll win the auction! –Ben True
“Essentially what Nick is doing is showing the value that the typical elite athlete is not able to tap into–the value of owning your own skin. An athlete like Nick can command real dollars for something he’s going to cover with tape, but most athletes can’t. The point isn’t really about Nick (and Nick would probably tell you the same thing) it’s to show that there is monetary value in being able to show someone’s logo and athletes are restricted by these antiquated rules from doing so in a traditional way. So he’s really just using his body as a way to make that point.” —Lauren Fleshman
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