Athlete agent Cubie Seegobin dispels myths about high earnings across track and field
The USA's Sha'Carri Richardson (right) celebrates as she crosses the line ahead of Jamaica's Shericka Jackson to claim gold in the women's 4x100 relay at the World Athletics Championship in Budapest, Hungary, on Saturday August 26, 2023.Naphtali Junior

ATHLETE manager and agent Cubie Seegobin says contrary to popular opinion, the sport of track and field is not lucrative. To substantiate his view he offered the Jamaica Observer a detailed explanation of how coaches and athletes earn from the sport.

Finances in the sport have been a popular discussion topic in recent days, with the public speculating just how much athletes earn from competing and from where exactly their earnings come.

Seegobin, a former manager for former 100m world champion Yohan Blake, says that while large earnings are possible, the only athletes who experience this are the biggest stars in the sport.

"They're the exception to the rule," he said. "There's a handful or so that you can tell that are making that kind of money. You can see the endorsements that they have. They live a nice lifestyle because of the work ethic and the accolades that they have achieved."

SEEGOBIN...when people say you can make a lot of money, very few people are (Photo: Jason Tulloch)

These athletes are those who have taken care to make themselves more than just athletes in competition, transcending that level to instead become personal brands who are easily marketable and attractive for endorsement deals. This means as well that having charisma is key to earning big.

"That's most important," Seegobin said. "Put yourself in the shoes of a sponsor," he suggested. "Would you want to sign with an athlete that behaves a certain way? Young athletes, and athletes in general, don't understand how important your brand is — to carry yourself in a certain way; to be able to speak properly; to be able to, even under the worst situations, be polite and be respectful. People look at all of that."

However, the primary source of income for athletes is the contracts they sign with shoe brands, as well as fees and prizes from competition.

The more you have achieved, especially if you are a junior athlete about to start a professional career, the better the terms on offer tend to be. In many cases these terms may even be more suitable than terms offered to athletes in their prime looking for new deals but who are not necessarily top names in their events.

"Companies are usually looking for the younger athletes," Seegobin said. "As you go past 26 companies are not so interested in you because you're on the other side of your athletic ability. They look at your lifespan because at 31, or 32, you're not going to get much better.

"Once you go past 25 it's difficult to get a deal unless you're an Olympic or world champion, or world record holder, or you're burning up the track."

Seegobin says he and like-minded agents, in this instance, with younger athletes look to negotiate clauses with the welfare of their clients in mind.

"I always negotiate within my contracts an education category where the company pays for the athlete to go to a junior college, private lessons, or a four-year institution," he said. "I also negotiate a retainer, a coaching fee, and a therapy payment to keep the athlete healthy. Sometimes I negotiate accommodation expenses, if they're getting an apartment. I also negotiate a travel allowance for them to go to meets, where we don't have to pay for them to go to meets until they're established."

These contracts typically carry a duration of three years but in many cases there is an option to extend it to a fourth. The figures on these contracts are also subject to change. Seegobin says an example is where it rises by US$10,000 ($1.5 million) or US$15,000 (over $2 million) per year, or what is known as a rollover wherein incentives for winning major events are included in your figure the following year. There's also the possibility of a reduced figure based on bad form or an athlete experiencing a fall in their ranking for the year.

These figures are also determined by the event an athlete competes in. Athletes in events such as sprints, hurdles races, and long-distance races, which are generally more popular with spectators and television audiences, tend to earn more than their counterparts who compete in certain field events, especially those events that are sometimes left off the itinerary at meets in the World Athletics' Diamond League, and the Continental Tour.

As regards the Diamond League and Continental Tour, marquee athletes have a stronger voice when negotiating their participation terms. Along with the prize earnings, they get to negotiate an appearance fee and even who they compete against.

"If you have a marquee athlete and a meet wants them, the agent will say, 'If you want my athlete you have to pay so much; I'll give you a reduced price but you have to take this and this and this athlete as well," Seegobin said.

"Sometimes that causes a lot of confusion. Athletes will see certain people in a meet and say, 'How did that person get in and I can't?' Then you have to look at the source, who's pulling on whose coat-tail."

The Diamond League also offers a travel allowance of US$1,000 ($155,000). Athletes with a lesser reputation will likely have to pay the money out of pocket so as to have their technical staff travel with them, whereas marquee athletes can negotiate to have their coaches and other staff accommodated.

"Other than that, if you want your therapist with you, you've got to pay for that. You've got to pay for the ticket, for the housing, and if you want your coach to go with you, you've got to pay for that too."

In some cases an athlete's club will make these payments, but it will have to be reimbursed by the athlete.

Athletes also have to pay taxes on prize monies earned. These depend on the country they compete in. This is why an athlete may opt to compete in a specific Diamond League meeting over another. Depending on the country of origin of an athlete, he or she may also have to pay an income tax in their homeland, along with the other taxes, but in some cases there may be an agreement between governments of both countries to waive these fees.

"Nothing is free," Seegobin said. "When people say you can make a lot of money, very few people are. I challenge anybody to tell me otherwise. You can tell who are the ones that are making a lot of money.

"It's selling a lot of young athletes a pig in the bag and telling them this and that. It's a lot of misinformation and disinformation."

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce competes in the women's 100m heat during the World Championships at the National Athletics Centre in Budapest, Hungary, on Sunday, August 20, 2023. Fraser-Pryce is another athlete who has used her charm and charisma, as well as her accomplishments at the highest level, to strengthen her brand with various endorsement deals. (Photos: Naphtali Junior)
From left: Second-placed Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, third-placed Ivory Coast's Marie-Josee Ta Lou and winner Jamaican Shericka Jackson in heated competition in the women's 100m at the IAAF Diamond League Memorial Van Damme athletics meeting at King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels on Saturday, September 2, 2022. (Photo: AFP)
BY RACHID PARCHMENT Digital sports coordinator

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