Nick Symmonds is an accomplished track and field star currently training for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and along the way he's raising awareness for an issue close to his heart — athlete sponsorship rights. As part of that effort, he just sold 9 square inches on his right shoulder to be used as ad space throughout his 2016 competition schedule. For $21,800. On eBay.
He did the same thing in advance of the 2012 Olympics, selling the space to the advertising agency Hanson Dodge Creative for $11,100. This time around, the winning bidder was T-Mobile CEO John Legere, who polled his fans via Twitter to ask what the tattoo on Symmonds' arm should be.
"Due to antiquated rules, during all IAAF, USOC, and IOC governed competitions, I will be forced to tape over all forms of advertising on my body except the logos of my apparel and equipment manufacturers," Symmonds wrote on the eBay bidding page. "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."
He then went on to describe what Hanson Dodge got out of the 2012 ad, which was apparently a very successful PR stunt. The eBay page quotes co-founder Tim Dodge as saying, "Winning Nick's auction for arm space in the 2012 Olympics was a unique PR opportunity that more than paid off. It allowed Hanson Dodge Creative to partner with a world-class athlete to raise awareness for a cause we both believe in — athletes' sponsorship rights — and generated national coverage that continues to benefit HDC in 2016."
As for those rights, Symmonds sees one of the main issues as the way the International Olympic Committee (IOC) unfairly skips over athletes when it comes to revenue sharing.
"This current model, that has all of the money passing through IOC and absolutely none of it going to the athletes, is unacceptable," Symmonds told The Daily Dot.
The current rules of competition essentially state that athletes aren't allowed to wear any kind of sponsorship that's on the gear itself — Symmonds' shoulder ad included. That means it'll have to be covered up when he's actually competing, but that lost exposure is (in theory) more than made up through the stunt itself and awareness spread through fellow athletes and the media.
For his part, Legere seems beyond excited about the ad and what it stands for. He even did a live Facebook video with Symmonds to unveil the T-Mobile logo that'll end up on the athlete's arm.
Although Symmonds knows the fight is an awkward one considering he's actively going against the wishes of the same institutions that he's competing under, he wants to use the status he has now to spur change for athletes that come after him.
"I understand that my time as an athlete in track and field is coming to an end," he said. "I want to continue to use the platform to make the sport better than I found it, and right now I don't know that I can say that's the case."
Cover image: Nick Symmonds via Twitter