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Track & Field Must Seize Olympic Momentum, Nike’s Denson Says

Track and field needs to build on the feats of athletes including sprinter Usain Bolt and runner Mo Farah at the London Olympics to boost its profile in between games, Nike Inc. executive Charlie Denson said.

The sport may attract more media and sponsor interest in non-Olympic years if it “repackaged” itself in the manner of the $1 billion Indian Premier League Twenty20 series, which lifted cricket’s shortest format into the mainstream, said Denson, brand president at Beaverton, Oregon-based Nike.

“I would love to see track and field come back on a more consistent regular basis,” Denson said in an interview during the London games, which closed Aug. 12. “It would certainly be good for our business and I think there are a lot of people who’d be very interested. It’s a very compelling product to watch if done properly.”

Track and field suffers as marketing and broadcasting budgets are dominated by sports such as soccer. The International Association of Athletics Federations has sales about $200 million over three years, according to the governing body’s latest accounts. The IAAF holds a world championship every two years and its annual Diamond League series of meets is held in 14 cities around the world. The four-yearly soccer World Cup generates about $5 billion.

Bolt’s gold medal-winning sprints in the 100 and 200 meters in London produced more discussion on social media than any other event at the games.

Topping Twitter

The 25-year-old Jamaican’s victory in the 200 meters Aug. 9 generated more than 80,000 tweets per minute on Twitter, according to figures released by the social-networking service. His Olympic-record run in the 100 meters four days earlier was the most mentioned Olympic moment on Facebook and generated 74,000 tweets per minute. Bolt is sponsored by Puma SE.

Britain’s Farah, 29, became only the seventh man in Olympic history to win the 5,000 and 10,000 meters at the same games. His run in the longer distance, where the Nike-sponsored athlete was cheered on by a sellout crowd of 80,000 at the stadium, attracted an audience of 17.1 million, according to the British Broadcasting Corp. Only the opening ceremony and Bolt’s 100-meter run attracted more U.K. viewers.

“The Olympics is athletics’s showcase,” Denson said. “Certainly the sport itself has suffered more recently in the non-Olympic periods to some degree.”

IPL Example

Denson, whose company supplied more than 100 federations and 3,000 athletes with clothing and equipment in London, cited the Indian Premier League as an example of a sporting makeover that track and field could try to emulate.

The nine-team IPL, which finished its fifth edition in May, takes place over eight weeks and attracts most of the world’s best cricketers for matches that last about 3 1/2 hours. In 2008, a group including Sony Entertainment Television agreed to pay $1 billion for the competition’s broadcast rights over 10 years.

“If somebody could come in and do to track and field what the IPL did to cricket in India we would certainly like to be a large part of it,” said Denson.

Nike may play a bigger role at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Since the 2000 Sydney games, the company has outfitted teams and athletes while its biggest rival Adidas AG has been an official partner, which brings with it benefits such as using the International Olympic Committee’s logo in marketing campaigns and selling merchandise inside venues.

Adidas has said it won’t be an official partner in 2016. Nike has signed a sponsorship agreement with Rio organizers and the Brazilian national team, the Sports Business Journal reported. Denson declined to comment directly on the report.

“We’re continually evaluating the cost versus the benefit like we do with anything,” Denson said of Nike’s involvement in the Olympics. “We would never say never and we would always look at it.”

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