Monday, 14 May 2012

"I almost felt as if they didn't notice or care"

An exclusive interview shows the hidden stories of a sponsorship with Adidas.

Being an athlete isn't easy, its long days working on your discipline, grueling hours of training to remain at your peak, constant drugs testing and striking that balance between diet and lifestyle. So to many, securing a lucrative sponsorship deal takes a massive weight off your shoulders, enabling you to focus on your one goal of winning. 

But what happens when that deal goes sour? I met up with someone whose life has been turned around by these tying sponsorship contracts. They have shared with me their first hand experience of what it is actually like when that multinational corporation turns against you. And now, they are ready to tell the rest of the world just how easily these companies can make you or break you. 

The meeting began quite awkwardly, it is obvious that this subject is one that she doesnt like to talk about much. She admitted to myself that it's a subject she says away from, I get a feeling that this interview will help her get over her fears and there could be a lot hidden which I didn't previously realise. 
To many of you would empathise, knowing that if someone has been a victim of a past event they may not want to relive it, like many, my source is scared of the repercussions that talking to me may have on her life now. "it upsets me, that was my past and if things went well it would of also been my present and future. Sadly I messed that up, nothing can be changed now, I have learnt the extremely hard way."

Her saying this has left me wanting to know, what exactly happened with her sponsorship deal. She was with a high profile company and as we get talking over a coffee, which seems to have relaxed her a bit, I begin to find out what exactly happened with her sponsor. 

She was touted at a young age, having been a keen runner she progressed early on into regional and district competitions. However her true potential was during national qualifiers in which she cleared each round with ease and managed to place in the finals of her race. "At the end of my race some people came up to me and said they would love the opportunity to sponsor me to train and become professional." Naturally, like any athlete she spoke to her family and running coach and accepted the deal, "it was something I loved to do, the thought of getting paid for it was just too good to turn down."

I began to wonder how this could all go wrong for her, she was set up with a five year contract, brand new sports kit to wear when training and competing, as well as free accommodation and a wage of £2,500 to just run once in a while.  

"When things are going great, you forget you are still tied to a contract." 
This one sentence said a thousand words. My source had disobeyed the rules set out in a binding contract by her sponsor. Now all I was interested in, is what she did to break them.

She was selected by her national placings to go forward and compete at a European qualifier. She was with other British runners who she had got to know and befirend over many years competing with them, some of the runners had sponsors like my source did, however some were still desperately looking for one, "having a sponsor just adds to that sense of security for you." 

However is having a sponsor all that great? My source reveals how friends she knew got to wear whatever kit they liked at the time and what they thought best enhanced their performance. Having a sponsor could potentially prevent you from being your best, if you se tied to their products it may not be as good as other makes are.

One of her friends was living that free sponsor-less life we are talking about, she was very close to our source and they had known each other through running for many years. At this one race she was wearing a competitors trainers, "I really liked them on her, we are the same shoe size so asked if she would mind me trying them on." After doing a few warm up laps in them it was obvious that these trainers were more comfortable on her and she felt she would be better performing in these rather than her own branded ones. Her friend had a second pair of the trainers on her so let her wear those ones to race in, even though her contract stated she should wear only her brand at competitions. I was up against European champions so didn't think I was going to win or even place so didn't see the problem. "I will be out next round so who cares" I thought to myself. 

However, she was actually running a a better pace than usual and kept getting through to the next rounds. "I was elated I didn't even notice what I was wearing I just couldn't believe I kept winning!" When she made it into the final 12 she was too focused on winning that she didn't want to ruin her chances by changing back to her proper running trainers. She didn't win that competition, but she did place in the top three, which meant she had to stand on the winners podium with a case of 'the wrong trainers'. Her picture got into a few newspapers, she looked stunning with a toned body and her sponsors branding all over her, it all would of been perfect if it wasn't for the bright red running trainers with a competitors branding on her feet rather than her paid branding. 

When the pictures went to press the next morning, her feeling of elation at placing so highly in this competition was gone. Sponsorship all about that winning race, by sponsoring someone you are backing a winner. When that athlete crosses the line they are meant to encompass a winner, wearing the clothes of a winner, so when consumers see the images they see how you should dress to be the best in this discipline. Her friend had also won in her races, the papers cashed in on both of the girls wearing the same shoes, it was basically free advertising to the other brand.

It was inevitable that she would soon be contacted by her company. They took a few days to approach her, "maybe I was such a good deal for them that they didn't care?" But in fact that was not the case. They called her up and asked her to come to their offices the next morning at 10am. She had no idea what she was about to expect, "in hindsight, I wish I bought a lawyer in with me or something."

She went into a conference room with ten suited and booted people all sat round a big table clearly waiting for her, using her given feminine charm she wore a tight blue office style dress and push up bra, if she didn't have a lawyer she may as well use what she had got. Although a few of the men stared, clearly impressed at her effort, she knew once the top dog begin to speak that those efforts were in vain.

They informed my source that she had violated her terms of agreement by advertising a competitors brand. They had various sales figures of how the competitors running shoes had increased in sales by a certain percentage within the period of time since the race and how she was responsible for that figure. They highlighted profit areas on products she was endorsing which were low. Her contract was ended with immediate effect and sadly she was then sued for breaking the clearly outlined clauses on her contract. On top of this she was also ordered to pay the company back for losses, she lost her flat which they had provided her for and provide back rent for the time in which she was living there. "All I could keep were my running clothes that had been used, all other stuff had to be returned."

In total she ended up having to find over £170,000 for them. Which she clearly did not have available "and they knew that". She had to move back to her home town with her parents and ended up getting a job at a supermarket because she had no qualifications. Sadly, after many months of struggling to pay back what she owed she ended up with no choice but to declare herself bankrupt. "I only managed to pay them about £15,000 they dropped the case and just basically left me to be penniless."

She began to feel lost and yearning for her old life of living in high class London and running for her wage. She fell into a state of depression, spent days at a time in bed, just watching the world go by whilst she stayed still. However, that running passion in her finally stirred again ad she knew she should get back up on her feet, "I went to college as a mature student and got some qualifications". She became a carer and begin to earn a decent wage in a job she enjoyed. After a few months she then began running again, "at first just as exercise and then I joined a local running club." It was hear that her life finally changed for the good, as she met a guy who was part of the running club. They began dating and quickly knew it was meant to be so moved in together. She didn't keep her past from him though, he knew all about her bankruptcy and issues with the company. "I don't have long left on it now and once that goes, that will be the end of my old life and my new one can now finally begin."

What I find touching about this is how through all her hardship she has still remained strong, even at telling me this story, clearly it upset her but she thought about the good things which have come out from it. She will never be happy at how things went wrong for her, but at least she has learnt to accept them.

"I see people in the Olympics now and feel that could of been me, but my silver lining is my fiancé, if things hadn't of messed up I would never of met him, in a way I am better for it. I miss my running but I do it now for enjoyment rather than making a living. Now a days I am a carer, I love my job, my home and my fiancé.... People don't know about my past because that felt like a different me, I have changed now and I believe it is for the better..."

I would like to thank my source for agreeing to tell her story at how being sponsored by such a multi-national company can alter your life in so many ways. For some these deals are brilliant and a chance at a future in a sport they love, but you must always remember those who have had to suffer a lifetime for one small mistake. These companies are not forgiving, they may forget you like they have with our source, but they are ultimately the only winners within sport.

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