Six  Observations on Michael Johnson’s Announcement on Funding for a Professional Track & Field League

On April 23, 2024, Michael Johnson announced, in a story through Sporting Business Journal, that he had secured $30 million in funding for his still-unnamed professional track league. Here is the copyrighted story:

1. Michael Johnson is one of the few sports leaders (Olympic champion, WR holder, BBC analyst, social media commentator, Baylor grad) who could champion such an obvious challenge to global athletics’ status core. The sport has needed and needs an independent professional track league. The challenges are many. But, we feel that Michael Johnson is up for the battle and, in fact, seems to be looking forward to a fight.

2. Money is the least of his worries. This $30 million is just the start. By the time MJ can smile and admit success, he will spend, per keen observers, close to $100 million to succeed. At the very least, the non-support of various sports entities, from World Athletics to USATF, and not the least the support of multiple sponsors such as NIKE, will play a huge factor in the success or failure of the professional track league. The hope is that Mr. Johnson will get the support of various key players in the sport; if not, then no obstructions to Mr. Johnson’s soon-to-be-released plan would be an excellent first move (more info on the league will come out in June 2024, per SBJ).

3. Mr. Johnson will compete with established events like the Diamond League. This writer will be flabbergasted to see Diamond League sponsors meet directors and communications managers take kindly to someone diminishing the value of their 15 meetings, but stranger things have happened. Mr. Johnson also realizes that this sport is chock full of many different interest groups, who make change in this sport insanely challenging. How Mr. Johnson handles a less-than-enthusiastic terrestrial media atmosphere will be enjoyable: will Mr. Johnson offer streaming for free or work with a viable streaming partner?

4. Seb Coe, working to build a more professional sport, may not look kindly to this new challenger. One of the best things MJ’s league has going for is that it is not encumbered with a contract to DENTSU, one of the world’s largest and most byzantine advertising agencies. Mr. Coe could respond by building a super league of 4 meetings, with money from the Saudis, among others, who are mentioned in many conversations about the saviors of the sport. Note that one must be careful about the whole savior thing.

5. In North America, Max Siegel is the athletic power broker. His $23 million a year from NIKE, but most importantly, his support from NIKE management, confirmed by this writer, gives Mr. Siegel unappreciated power. Max Siegel can just watch and see if Mr. Johnson succeeds and then show his support, or if it does not succeed, comment on how tough it is to build a professional sport in North America.

6. Michael Johnson is among the most positive people I have ever seen; he is a natural salesperson. His quiet confidence, his ability to do the talk and do the walk, and the apparent need to make his dream succeed are what this Professional League is all about. Do not bet against Michael Johnson. His first move was to raise $30 million, which is no mean feat in today’s sport saturation. His second was to hire an agency to handle the storytelling (well respected), which had been missing in modern athletics for years. Michael Johnson knows, more than most, that Perception is Reality (an old Rolling Stone ad campaign). We wish him much luck and success.