Why You Shouldn’t Be Mad USAT Has Foreign Sponsors

Athletes compete at a national championship race. Photo: Mario Cantu

Sponsorship makes up 20 percent of USA Triathlon’s operating budget. And like all U.S. national sports governing bodies, they’ll that money from wherever they can.

Science in Sport, a U.K.-based sports nutrition company, recently signed a deal that makes them the official provider of energy gels and bars for USA Triathlon through 2020. Hold up there guv’nor—Brits sponsoring a U.S. sports organization? British invasion?

Relax, nothing to see here. Foreign companies sponsoring U.S. sports governing organizations has been going on since goodie bags. Since the internet. Since brands discovered that being the exclusive provider for a national sports organization is a great way to reach customers and sell products, according to Thomas Baker, Associate Professor of Sport Law at the University of Georgia.

And, for their part, national governing bodies like USA Triathlon that rely on sponsorships to operate have been able to increase their revenues by expanding partnership opportunities to national and international companies. It just makes business sense.

“Commercialization of sports has increased substantially in the last 20 or 30 years,” Baker said.

It helps if you use the right language. “Sponsorship of this nature, in the U.S., is not viewed as foreign investment, but instead perceived as corporate sponsorship,” Baker said. “Foreign businesses, in this regard, have nearly the same footing as American brands in terms of sponsorship opportunities.”

Globalization of both business and sports further fuels cross-border partnerships. Triathlon is contested globally, and Science in Sport is expanding into the American market, so when USAT’s previous gel partnership with Cleveland-based Boom! Nutrition expired this year, they looked at just about every company in the gel/bar business, said USAT Chief Marketing Officer Chuck Menke.

“Whenever we choose to align with a sponsor, it’s a strong endorsement on behalf of the sport of that company’s products or services,” Menke said.

They chose Science in Sport, Menke said, for a number of reasons—SiS has a long history of success with British Cycling, Team Sky, British Triathlon and USA Cycling, their gels are isotonic (more easily digested) and provide more instantaneous energy, and their bars provide concentrated nutrition in a smaller, more manageable size.

The actual cash money SiS anted up is only part of the consideration, Menke said. “Science in Sport will provide benefit to our members by offering product discounts, and they support our national team, and all our national championships—Collegiate Club and High School, Duathlon, Youth and Junior, and Age Group.”

Menke could not reveal the dollar amount of the Science in Sport deal, but said all marketing revenue combined—including advertising, expo sales, and sponsorships—amounted to about 20 percent of USAT’s operating budget. The majority of USAT’s revenue comes from membership (annuals and one-days), with the remainder coming from educational programs, USOC funding, and national events. (Unlike federations in other countries, U.S. national sports governing bodies like USAT receive no government or taxpayer funding.)

More than globalization of sport, the ability to sell stuff to a large and targeted audience has blurred national boundaries. USA Triathlon has previously partnered with 2XU, an Australian compression apparel company, and other U.S. governing bodies—USA Hockey, USA Cycling, USA Track & Field—are all supported in part by sponsorship deals with foreign companies.