#ShirtStorm @ Atlanta Spartan Sprint: Brand Competition Or Violation Of Personal Freedom?
The situation at the Atlanta Sprint was poorly handled - no question about it. Here’s to hoping that this is an isolated incident, which does not reflect the culture of the Spartan Race. I’d hate to think that the most competitive race series cannot handle a little bit of competition.
A number of years ago, while working for Research In Motion (now BlackBerry), I have once whipped out an HP handheld device in a meeting. The look from my manager was murderous. I got the hint.
Brand competition is a real thing - especially, in the increasingly competitive obstacle racing industry. Brand recognition does not come easy.
Notice, that in the previous example, I did not get onto a soapbox, waving around my HP device, declaring how I had a right to use whatever device I wanted. It simply seemed disrespectful.
“Hold on”, you may say. But it’s not like a Spartan employee was wearing a BattleFrog t-shirt in this case. You are right. Although that would have been funny. I can just imagine a photo of Norm, sporting a bright orange headband, leaking on social media. How deliciously scandalous would that be?
Every racer can wear whatever they damn please to the start line, unless it is explicitly stated in the rules that they cannot.
As you sign the Spartan Race participation waiver, you “irrevocably grant unlimited permission to Releasees, to use, reproduce, sell and distribute any and all photographs, images, videotapes, motion pictures, recordings or any other depiction of any kind”. In other words, if you see your own smiling mug on a huge Spartan Race poster overlooking Time Square, the company owes you nothing. It’s their image.
But the waiver does not include any references to gear worn or products advertised. BeetElite from head to toe? Go for it. Wear a Spartan t-shirt to a BadAss Dash (as I have unintentionally done in the past), wear a Tough Mudder t-shirt to a Spartan Race. Hell, wear a tutu - many do!
Yet, race organizers asking a racer (nicely!) to remove or cover up a piece of clothing with another race’s logo before promotional photos are taken for the race is reasonable.
After my friend Rhonda, who is a visually impaired ultra runner, completed her first Tough Mudder in New Jersey, we were interviewed by TM marketing team. One of the guides was asked to cover up the Spartan logo on his sweat shirt. Completely understandable, no?
I interviewed Shayne MacKay, a brand strategist, with over 20 years of experience in brand development, marketing and advertising. MacKay, who boasts the Harvard Business School’s executive program in marketing and design management as part of her professional background, had this to say:
It’s not necessarily an ethical issue, it’s a legal issue. Both race organizations would have legal and contractual obligations to their own sponsors and investors. If you have someone standing on their podium in a race shirt of a competing organization, they have every right to ask a racer to remove that shirt. The podium is a major promotional opportunity. This is not only a competition in the field, it’s a competition for the brands too. Sports promotion is really very tricky - everyone is getting paid by someone out there - and there are so many contractual arrangements and exclusions and inclusions. The reality of this situation is: follow the money.
One could argue that it is not the responsibility of participants to comply with sponsor obligations. But, it’s not like the idea of athletes only having to wear certain brands is new.
In 2014, the CrossFit community was furious after learning that CrossFit athletes had to wear Reebok gear only, from head to toe - all provided by the Games major sponsor.