Running is not as popular as, say, football or baseball when it comes to spectators. So it isn’t surprising that professional runners don’t have the same earning power. But this article from Runner’s World surprised me with how low compensation can be, even for a talented runner.
According to the survey:
– Our sport has a very steep pyramid of income opportunities. A select few enjoy a very good living…though even they can fall hard in a short period if performance lags or injuries intervene.
– The top variables that affect an athlete’s earnings realization are “world ranking” and “event”. The tables below are organized around these two factors. In addition these variables can effect an athlete’s earnings realization:
- an athlete’s age and perceived future potential to achieve a lower ranking or win medals;
- past Olympic or World Championship medals & past USA National titles;
- the simple but powerful label of ‘Olympian’ for those who have ever achieved this status;
- charisma/”beauty” & perceived fan engagement skill;
- agent quality & ability/standing in the industry to solicit offers from multiple shoe sponsors
– There is wide variation across each event and within the highest rankings. In aggregate though, combining all T&F events:
- Approximately 50% of our athletes who rank in the top 10 in the USA in their event make less than $15,000 annually from the sport (sponsorship, grants, prize money, etc.) and
- Approximately 20% of our athletes in top 10 in the USA in their event make more than $50,000 annually.
- Athletes outside of a top 10 USA ranking, other than some sprinters, milers, and distance runners, can expect to face very limited (if any) income support.
It makes sense in many ways. The ad revenue from running is significantly lower than a team sport. And while an injury on the football field might take an individual out of a few games, an injury for an elite runner means the end of the season. Also, unlike team sports, where there might be a dozen or two dozen teams, an elite runner could be conceivably competing against the top 50 athletes from anywhere in the world. One bad day and there’s plenty of competitors to take the lead.
At the same time, we are so conditioned to think pro athlete=big money, it’s a shift to see how that’s really the exception and not the rule. A great reason to stay in college and get a degree, or at least develop a non-competition based skill!