Fast Company Innovation Festival: Allyson Felix on sponsorship

Allyson Felix made headlines when she took dwelling yet one more gold medal in Tokyo this 12 months. With 11 medals to her identify, Felix had set a brand new document, making her probably the most embellished American observe and subject athlete in Olympic historical past.


Watch the Fast Company Innovation Festival Live now.


Felix has been uniquely influential off the observe, too. Whereas pregnant in 2018, she discovered herself mired in a dispute with Nike over the phrases of her new sponsorship contract. After two former teammates spoke out about their very own experiences with Nike, Felix revealed in a New York Times op-ed that Nike had proposed slashing her pay by 30% after she was pregnant—a proposal she wouldn’t settle for. Amid the general public strain, Nike finally launched a brand new maternity coverage that secured protections for pregnant athletes, which barred the corporate from making any reductions in pay for 18 months or terminating a contract if an athlete declined to compete whereas pregnant.

A number of months after going public along with her story, Felix inked a brand new cope with ladies’s activewear model Athleta. It was a primary for Athleta, for the reason that model had by no means sponsored an athlete earlier than. However Athleta additionally noticed it as a chance to reimagine the connection between athlete and sponsor.

“We got down to fully rewrite the playbook for athlete sponsorships,” Athleta CEO Mary Beth Laughton stated throughout a panel on the Fast Company Innovation Competition, the place she appeared alongside Felix. “An enormous a part of that’s, to start with, partnering with folks that have shared values with us—[that’s] so, so necessary—however then additionally actually trying on the companions as full individuals who accomplish that a lot of their lives and are, after all, wonderful athletes, however are additionally moms and entrepreneurs and activists.”

Meaning not solely providing athletes the extra conventional parts of a partnership, like product collaborations, but additionally empowering them to observe their different passions, whether or not that’s by social justice work or content material creation. “Allyson undoubtedly has an enormous seat on the desk, giving us her insights and her voice and her factors of view on the product [and] all the pieces else,” Laughton stated, “and we so welcome that.”

Felix’s newest undertaking with Athleta was an particularly private one. Main as much as the Olympics, Felix labored with Athleta and the Girls’s Sports activities Basis to launch a $200,000 grant that will assist cowl childcare prices for athletes who have been competing. (The grant recipients, who’re being awarded $10,000 every, can be introduced in October.) “I got here again straight away from having my daughter again to competitors,” Felix stated. “I noticed firsthand how troublesome that’s and the way you want to be supported. I bear in mind going to my first world championships [when my daughter] Cammy was 10 months outdated, and the problem of bringing a toddler that younger abroad. I had a roommate. How does that work? How are you breastfeeding?”

Although Felix has the help of a sponsor like Athleta, the identical isn’t true for numerous athletes—notably those that go to the Olympics. For athletes who can’t rely on a profitable sponsorship deal, a childcare stipend could possibly be invaluable. “It was so necessary to have the ability to begin to do one thing about this and actually making an attempt to shift the trade,” Felix stated. “We hope that that is only the start—that we will actually change the way in which that issues are completed.”

Felix’s advocacy for athletes who’re moms mirrors a bigger pattern in sports activities, one additionally embodied by the likes of Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles, each of whom have talked brazenly about their struggles with psychological well being. (Biles additionally occurred to depart Nike and signal with Athleta earlier this 12 months.) “I really feel just like the world is altering,” Felix stated. “Prior to now, we haven’t given athletes a lot room to have the ability to appear human. They’re alleged to be invincible, they usually’re alleged to be so robust.”

However athletes like Felix are utilizing their platforms to usher in an period of better honesty and transparency, and to remind the general public that athletes have lives past their sport. “For the longest time, I actually thought that individuals solely cared about my efficiency,” she stated. “Over time, I’ve grown and clearly matured, and it was by my very own experiences that I lastly discovered my voice. Changing into a mom was in all probability one of many greatest ways in which occurred, and desirous about my daughter and the world that she’ll develop up in made me really feel like, ‘Okay, I want to do that.’”