AthleteBiz: Connecting Running Fans with Running Stars

imageWould you like to grab a burger and shake with Alana Hadley? Have your kid tutored by Olivia Mickle? Shoot the breeze with Esther Atkins? Maybe even receive a home-brewed ale from Camille Heron? There’s a website for that!

Have you heard of AthleteBiz? It’s an online platform dedicated to introducing U.S. world-class track and field athletes to fans and potential fans. Each athlete can craft her brand on her own AthleteBiz page, offering merchandise, services, blog posts, and more. In the way of services, athletes can offer everything from a personalized video message of encouragement, public speaking engagements, guest appearances, or even personalized coaching. The options don’t stop there. Athletes and fans are encouraged to get creative; all you have to do is ask for custom engagement (like that home-brew from Camille).

While we know running is the best sport around, AthleteBiz has its work cut out for it. Running is a minor sport in the United States compared to baseball, basketball, hockey, and, of course, football. AthleteBiz seeks to change that, while providing world-class American runners an opportunity to financially support their training and connect with fans like us. 

AthleteBiz is the two-person effort of Jack Wickens and Aaron Cattell. In 2009, after joining the board of the USATF Foundation, Jack Wickens realized track and field athletes needed help. While athletes in the big professional sports like football were raking in millions, most elite runners were barely scraping by. As a long-time advocate for track and field athletes, Jack saw an opportunity and came up with the idea for a website that would allow athletes to both promote and financially support themselves through merchandise and service offerings, while at the same time growing a larger fanbase. With his past experience as a healthcare executive, starting up the non-profit organization AthleteBiz was relatively easy. He asked Aaron Cattell, a former human resources professional, to join him on this journey and in April 2014 they launched the first version of the AthleteBiz site.

Aaron Cattell serves as the Director of Operations for AthleteBiz and you could say he is a running superfan. He ran cross country in high school, around the same time Alan Webb was smashing the high school mile record. He’s been a fan of the sport ever since and, oddly enough, Mr. Webb is now featured on his website. So what all does this website entail?

Six months ago, AthleteBiz relaunched, which, along with the service offerings we mentioned above, added a store on each athlete’s page to showcase their favorite gear. To do this, they teamed up with Running Warehouse to offer discounts and the ability for fans to support their favorite athletes while they shop; if a fan shops on Running Warehouse through the link on an athlete’s page, that athlete will receive up to a 10% portion from the proceeds of that sale. The hope in all of this is twofold: allow the athletes to be entrepreneurs and connect with fans.

The men behind AthleteBiz, Aaron Cattell and Jack Wickens

Cattell estimates that AtheteBiz attracts about half a million unique users to connect with the 130 athletes it features. When talking about his line of work, Cattell says he sometimes gets asked, “So do you know Tyson Gay and Justin Gaitlin?” He kindly replies that he knows of them but thinks to himself, “I did just get off the phone with Katie Mackey, do you know how awesome that is?” That’s the great thing about this site: it features an eclectic mix of competitors, from Sanya Richards Ross to Kaitlin Goodman (who just so happened to be one of the first to sign on with AthleteBiz).

Wickens and Cattell emphasize that they are not in this business for themselves. Rather, as Cattell states, “We are in it to fill a gap within the industry and to give the athletes a platform. That is really important to us.” He also believes that track and field is here to stay. “There are really big fans out there; the opportunities are there. So many great things are happening, like the efforts of the American Track League and the Run With Us Initiative (a USATF Foundation sponsored school program that uses athletes to teach movement including running and track and field events).” He believes that every athlete featured on AthleteBiz is the type of person who would be a role model even if they weren’t an athlete. His enthusiasm speaks volumes for the athletes and the sport itself. It’s an exciting time to be in Track and Field.

Go here to check out the site. You can also follow AthleteBiz on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Have you already used AthleteBiz? If not, is it a site you’ll try? 

I write about mindfulness, mental health, and the professional sport of running with the occasional poking fun at the sport. When I am not running, I'm either helping people as a counselor or trying to make them laugh as an amateur open mic comedian.

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10 comments

  1. This is a great idea! Thanks for getting the scoop for us, Ginger! I’ve been seeing stuff about it, but wasn’t really sure what it was.

    Now that I’ve had some time to look at it and see what it’s all about I personally would like to see more outreach to the non-elite community. I’m not sure they’re going to buy-in without being sold on what’s in it for them. A lot of runners like to actually run and aren’t necessarily fans the way football fans are, so for better or for worse, I think the pool of potential fans need to be sold a lot harder on running than the potential fans of other sports. Since it’s early, I’m sure a lot of focus is on attracting athletes, but hopefully there are plans for more outreach soon.

    1. I am a big fan and supporter of AthleteBiz. I met the amazing Olivia Mickle thru AthleteBiz (BTW, I’m glad that you had a chance to meet and talk with Olivia in Jacksonville). I agree that AthleteBiz has a tough mission in that most runners and casual fans of running are probably not willing to spend hundreds of dollars to have lunch with an elite track and field athlete.

      For the athletes on AthleteBiz, additional programs (beyond the service offerings and athlete store mentioned in the article) include:

      -Co-branded crowdfunding through RallyMe
      -Career coaching and mentoring through the Athlete Network
      -Direct connection to companies seeking to employ athletes in various position that support their training needs

    2. We agree that we would love to see fan support at all levels of fitness and health advocates. The what’s in it for them can come in many forms, whether having a once in a lifetime type of connection with an Olympic-caliber athlete or by getting a discount on some sweet new merch just by purchasing the products they already would through an athlete store (https://www.athletebiz.us/pages/athlete-stores-all). Most importantly, the funds received through these avenues are going toward supporting the high training costs of being an athlete and competing at the highest level where the compensation to do so is not as glamorous as many may think (http://trackandfieldathletesassociation.org/site/how-much-money-do-track-and-field-athletes-make/). Also, maybe some people think it would be cool to honestly and earnestly say they helped make the dream a reality.

      Either way, we are up for the challenge and look forward to doing the best we can in making a difference!

      1. I hear you, Aaron! I know that US athletes need more support if they are going to compete with the world’s best, but I’m not sure anyone has yet made the case to the masses why they should care about that. However, if you can do that AB will be hugely successful! Sounds so easy, but it’s definitely something that’s easier said than done. We support you 100% and are happy to help if we can!

    3. Yes- the sport itself faces some stiff competition from other sports but I love where they are going with this. Aaron did bring up a good point in our conversation that I didn’t mention- the rise of local races each weekend continues to thrive. Recreational running is alive and well. It’s just that is it possible to get all those people who actually run interested in all aspects of the sport? I think many athletes nowadays are learning how to create their own brand and that includes outreaches at races. It’s a slow process but there is movement. I think many T&F athletes are just learning how to market themselves via social media (there is a lot to learn!) but the payoff can help tons. If they are star branders in addition to star athletes, they typically have quite the following, which leads to many unique opportunities.

      1. That’s what’s awesome about running is that the pros and the fans BOTH participate in the sport together – imagine that happening in football! Ha!