- Associated Press - Thursday, July 7, 2016

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) - If it wasn’t clear enough from the ubiquitous swooshes in the Fan Festival or the giant white domes emblazoned with the trademark phrase “Just Do It,” Nike is king at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials.

As the premier sponsor of the Olympic Trials all three times they’ve been held in Eugene, Nike has an exclusive branding agreement over shoe and apparel companies within Hayward Field and immediately surrounding the venue during the 10-day festivities.

But take a walk just beyond the Trials grounds and a battle for eyeballs and wallets can be seen unfolding among companies shut out of the official games.

Footwear and fitness apparel companies big and small have paid businesses or property owners near Hayward Field to sell their merchandise, deck employees out in company gear or simply display banners for the thousands of daily passersby to see on their way to and from the events.

“It’s the most important track and field meet in the world, other than the Olympics, bar none, simple as that,” said Mike McManus, senior sports marketing director for French shoe company Hoka One One.

Hoka partnered with Eugene Running Company and the Wild Duck Cafe, setting up booths with company gear at each business and splashing company logos on the windows of the Villard Street restaurant.

McManus declined to say how much Hoka paid the Eugene businesses for sponsorship rights, but called it a sensible way to promote the company in a field thick with competitors. The company also sponsored 19 athletes that qualified for the Trials.

“It’s incredibly important to be part of the fabric of running and track field, and that doesn’t mean having your own ambush marketing. In our case it means having a couple local partners,” McManus said. “It’s also just a great opportunity to have some validation for our brand.”

Hoka One One’s not alone.

New Balance banners cover Agate Alley Bistro on 19th Avenue near Agate Street. A New Balance van parked on the property is decked with the slogan “Summer of Fast.”

Adidas appears to have reached out to the Sigma Chi fraternity at the University of Oregon, whose frat house is across 19th Avenue from Agate Alley Bistro. Adidas banners are strewn in front of the property. New Balance and Adidas didn’t return messages about their advertising campaigns at the Trials.

For the 2016 Trials, the Eugene nonprofit TrackTown USA received revenue from sponsor and partnership agreements with 76 businesses, public institutions and nonprofits. Chief among them is Nike, whose logo has top billing on TrackTown’s online list of partners.

TrackTown organizers didn’t comment on the amount of revenue received for the Trials from sponsors. During the 2008 Trials, organizers said sponsors contributed from $5,000 to more than $250,000 each. Nike was said to have paid a seven-figure amount to the Trials that year.

“Nike has been a tremendous partner to us at each of the three Olympic Trials that we have hosted,” Vin Lananna, president of TrackTown USA and the Olympic Organizing Committee, said in a statement. “In addition to their financial support, which has truly enhanced the opportunities for youth to run, jump and throw in the (Fan) Festival, each time Nike has created an exciting and innovative activation that has attracted thousands of visitors.”

TrackTown officials say the operating budget for this year’s Trials is in the $10 million range.

Some companies on the official sponsor list say the payoff is immediate.

As the sole craft beer sponsor of the Trials, Ninkasi Brewing Co. has only Budweiser to compete with for the tens of thousands of track fans looking for a cold brew on the grounds.

Ninkasi CEO Nikos Ridge didn’t say how much his company paid TrackTown USA for sponsorship rights, but said the benefits are clear.

“They gave us a lot of great opportunities, the ability to bring some of our folks to the (Trials), and just a ton of exposure,” Ridge said. “It’s multi-faceted. There’s the direct exposure from selling beer, but also just the partnership and being part of something that’s a really cool and big thing for Eugene.”

But even some of the companies blocked from advertising inside the Trials grounds by Nike’s advertising monopoly say there are no hard feelings toward the shoe and apparel giant.

For the third straight Trials, SportHill, a Eugene athletic clothing maker, is selling some of its merchandise from a display in the Sun Automotive parking lot, at the intersection of 19th Avenue and Agate Street.

SportHill owner Jim Hill said he appreciated Nike’s large contributions to the Trials over the years, adding that he and others reap an obvious benefit from the games, even if they can’t promote their gear inside Hayward Field or at the Fan Festival.

“It’s a great location to connect with people from all over the country, in some cases all over the world,” Hill said of his 19th and Agate spot. “We’d like to be in the venue, but that’s not possible, so we do anything we can.”

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Information from: The Register-Guard, https://www.registerguard.com

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