Michael Johnson, Winners Alliance to Create Fan-Focused Track League

Rexa Vella

Michael Johnson, Winners Alliance to Create Fan-Focused Track League

Olympic champion Michael Johnson is determined to revive his beloved track and field, which for decades has only managed to capture the U.S. public’s attention during the Olympics.

As reported by our sister site Sportico, Johnson, one of the greatest sprinters of all time, is partnering with Winners Alliance to develop a new track league that aims to better engage existing fans by providing a TV-friendly product to promote the sport’s biggest stars and draw new audiences through unique storytelling. While details of the league, with a planned debut in 2025, are still being worked out, the goal is to provide the sport with an entity that more closely resembles major U.S. pro sports leagues.

“I love this sport and owe everything I have to this sport,” Johnson said in an interview. “It’s been a shame for me to watch it over the last couple decades since I retired not be able to continue to provide the same amazing moments to people, outside of just the Olympics.”

The four-time Olympic gold medalist, who set world records in both the 200 and 400 meters in the 1990s, is collaborating with Winners Alliance to not only create a new entertainment platform but also help track and field athletes commercialize their rights.

Winners Alliance, a global athlete licensing and sponsorship firm that is serving as the operator and capital partner, claims it has already made the single largest investment in track and field history for the venture—a seven-figure sum, according to a source.

Johnson, a longtime pundit on the BBC, and other stakeholders have already begun talks with potential media partners, sponsors and prospective investors.

“I don’t think anyone [until now] has tried to show the essence of the sport and really put the athletes front and center,” Winners Alliance president Eric Winston said in an interview. “It’s not just track; athletes are the main event. The NBA has made a push to put their athletes front and center and even the NFL, which was always a team-driven league, has done so as well.”

Internationally, track and field has a large following, with events such as the world championships drawing big crowds and TV audiences. But due to a collection of factors—from lack of TV distribution to a dearth of world-class facilities for hosting major events to uneven marketing of individual stars—the sport has largely slipped into obscurity in the U.S. outside of the Olympics.

Track and field saw an encouraging viewership jump a couple years ago when the U.S. hosted the first ever outdoor world championships and turned in its largest audience since 2015 (averaging 834,000 viewers across NBC, USA Network and CNBC). But that’s an anomaly for the overlooked sport that’s had trouble finding regular TV coverage outside of major championships and Olympics.

NBC, which owns media rights for the Olympic Games through 2032, did not air the USATF outdoor championships last summer for the first time since 2006. The event was not televised and could only be accessed on CNBC and USATF TV. U.S. track and field stars like Noah Lyles and Sha’Carri Richardson have been vocal about the lack of TV coverage for their sport.

“That’s unfortunate, since over 3 billion people are watching the sport once a year during those major championships and have an expressed interest to continue watching the sport if there was a place to do so,” Johnson said. “So I see it as a real opportunity from that perspective.”

Winners Alliance, the for-profit arm of the Professional Tennis Players Association, globally represents thousands of athletes and last month signed a deal with the Federation of International Cricketers Association (FICA). But this is the first lock-step partnership with a venture founder like Johnson, an Olympic federation consultant and an entrepreneur who previously owned an athlete representation agency. Those experiences helped Johnson better understand the commercial difficulties track athletes face in creating a sustainable professional career.

“We just felt like it’s the right time, right person and right place,” Winston said in an interview. “And with our engine we can really give this the boost it needs to get it going.”

Winners Alliance is in talks with World Athletics, which is the international governing body for the sport. The Diamond League, an annual series of primarily European-based competitions that sits at the highest tier of World Athletics, is arguably the best continuous showcase of global talent.

Johnson doesn’t view his upstart league as a competitor but believes it can elevate the status of the Diamond League, often treated by the world’s best athletes as a preparation tool for Olympic and world championships.

The brain trust behind the new venture looks to leverage the excitement around this year’s Summer Olympic Games in Paris to galvanize support from fans and athletes ahead of next year’s launch.

Winners Alliance, which launched last year, is counting on the expertise and relationships Johnson brings to the equation. For the eight-time world champion, this is a moment to further cement his legacy across the sport.

“The track has been such a big part of my life,” Johnson said, “and I’m in a position to help this sport get back to where it should be.”

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