By Gene Cherry
EUGENE, Oregon (Reuters) - Athletics must expand its range of sponsors as it seeks revenue to grow the sport nationally and internationally, the president of USA Track & Field (USATF) said in an interview with Reuters.
"Our incredible dependence upon one industry, the shoe companies and the apparel companies, is an unsustainable model," said Vin Lananna, speaking at his Eugene, Oregon office on Wednesday.
Both the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and USATF have major contracts with shoe and apparel companies.
In 2014, the U.S. governing body signed a 23-year sponsorship extension with Nike worth a reported $400 million (£308.88 million). Asics last year became a multiple-year partner with the IAAF.
"We are so fortunate the shoe and apparel companies have supported us. (Without them), I don't know what would happen at the global level," Lananna, the 2016 U.S. men's Olympic coach, said.
Now other global companies need to be attracted to the sport, said Lananna, who heads the organising committee for the 2021 IAAF World Championships in Eugene. "They are interested in the Olympics every four years. They see their commercial property being promoted at the Olympic Games," he said.
"What we have to do is create compelling broadcasts to be able to lure other companies to the sport of track and field...If we just talk about medals and performances I think we miss a lot of the sport in terms of our ability to attract sponsors."
The U.S. and international federations both have an array of varied sponsors including Toyota Motor Corporation, Seiko timing and TDK electronics with the IAAF, and The Hershey Company, Chobani yogurt and Garden of Life nutritional products with USATF.
But Lananna said he and IAAF President Sebastian Coe both understand the need for more, as increased revenue would give more opportunities to grow a sport that has suffered from doping scandals and allegations of corruption.
"The question of (raising) the popularity of the sport comes up in every session," Lananna said of a nationwide tour he is making to learn from various entities of the U.S. sport.
New and shorter ways of presenting athletics, especially field events, also are necessary, he said. "We have to think differently about the way people consume the sport."
Event presentation is key.
"Let's look at how (television shows) American Idol and The Voice are popular to millions of viewers," Lananna said. "How do they take events and present them?"
Though not a major fan of such shows, "I watch it because I look at it as a model for track and field," he said.
Lananna especially likes the idea of athletes sharing their personalities as well as their talents with the public.
USATF's president, however, does not believe other forms of entertainment are necessary to keep fans involved.
"I think the sport is compelling enough," he said.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)