When Maersk came calling
Unorthodox approaches to athlete finance in Ethiopia
One thing that the best-paid sports stars in the world have in common is that they make far more money from commercial activities than they do from competing in its own right. LeBron James earned $16.7 million in salary and winnings last year but $55 million from endorsements. Roger Federer earned $12.2 million playing tennis and $65 million from endorsements. These amounts dwarf the career earnings of even the very best track and field athletes in the world.
Athletics is a long way behind on this — immeasurably so when it comes to East African athletes — but it’s also part of a broader problem addressed in a Guardian article last year by Michael Crawley entitled ‘Untold stories: why we should know more about East African runners’ . At its root the fact that we, (managements or individual managers), need to work harder to tell stories and build profiles for our very best athletes no matter where they come from. Cue Maersk video:
This video was produced for Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company, by New York based digital agency Carry-on Media and showcases Ethiopian half marathon record holder Jemal Yimer’s training environment. Who, you may ask? Glance at these career highlights and you’ll see why Jemal is one of Ethiopia’s rising stars.
The video itself was specifically for Maersk’s internal communications as part of their global employee conference last January. Shot over one afternoon two days before Christmas, the film shows Jemal talking about his own philosophy of running and connects his values of commitment and team work to the themes of the company.
Yes, Maersk is not your usual go-to company for athletics related promotions. Yes, we’ve gone a bit leftfield and the video has a slightly corporate tone. Yes, competing for commercial opportunities within an East African context is a challenge and to be frank all but non-existent for Ethiopian athletes. And yet it is not impossible, even for athletes like Jemal for whom fluent English is still a work in progress. But for Maersk, who have a major shipping interest in Africa, coming to the emerging capital of Addis Ababa ticked all the right boxes for them.
Here is just one unorthodox commercial opportunity where both parties benefit. Moyo Sports can bring values connected to professional running to a larger audience (Maersk have 88,000 employees across 130 countries) whilst also ensuring that non-traditional avenues of finance for athletes are agreed.
It has given Jemal a chance to experience something completely out of the ordinary (and out of his comfort zone). It has motivated him to do similar interviews but without the need for translation in the future, and underlined for him just how much he stands to gain from mastering his English lessons. And it has shown him that while running is his life six days a week, there are alternative income streams outside of his athletics available to him as well. How common is that in the Ethiopian athletics context?
So long as this type of work fits into an athletes competition schedule and causes minimum disruption to normal training routines, we can and will deliver opportunities like this. A combination of out-of-the-box thinking plus a desire for a more holistic approach to Athlete Representation mean unique partnerships like this will continue to be possible.