Gap’s Athleta Runs With Olympian Allyson Felix For First Sponsorship

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By Donitra Clemons

  • Gap’s Athleta brand sponsors its 1st athlete, Olympic track star Allyson Felix
  • Felix blasted former sponsor Nike for their reported pregnancy penalties

As the most decorated woman in U.S. track and field history, Allyson Felix, is racking up more than gold medals these days. The sprinter just inked a sponsorship contract with Athleta, a Gap (GPS -0.08%) Brand fitness apparel company. The deal comes on the heels of Felix calling out Nike (NKE +0.37%) for a performance-based compensation policy that often results in pay cuts for pregnant athletes. Does this Athleta partnership exemplify a change in the nearly $55 billion U.S. activewear clothing industry, and start to narrow the pay gap for sponsorship of women in sports?

Why This Matters: Earlier this year Gap referenced its plans to expand Athleta, which they bought in 2008, a brand it hopes can draw new customers who want to wear athletic clothes to the gym, on the weekends, and even to work. Allyson Felix is clearly part of that plan to bring in a new consumer base. The retailer does not break out Athleta’s annual sales, but the brand had more than 160 stores at the end of January. In 2017, the company claimed Athleta was on its way to hitting $1 billion in annual revenue.

In 2017, the company claimed Athleta was on its way to hitting $1 billion in annual revenue

For Felix this is more than just another endorsement deal, as she criticized Nike in The New York Times for their proposal of a 70% pay cut after her pregnancy. “If I, one of Nike’s most widely marketed athletes, couldn’t secure these protections, who could?,” Felix asks in the May op-ed.

Many women in sports risk losing their livelihood if they want to have a baby, in an arena where they are securing less than their male counterparts in take home pay and endorsements on average.  For example, Roger Federer, who bags the most endorsement money of any male athlete, earns $86 million in endorsements, according to Forbes. By contrast, the publication lists Serena Williams, the top female endorsement earner, as pocketing $29.2 million.

Situational Awareness: Though the dollar amount of Felix’s Athleta deal is undisclosed, the multi-year contract compensates her whether she is competing or not, and presents opportunities for the track star to collaborate with the brand on the design of high-performance gear and to build on Athleta’s 2020 “Power of She” campaign with sports initiatives for women and girls. Nike has responded to the backlash with more supportive terms in their contracts for athletes during pregnancy.

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Donitra Clemons

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