Athletics after Usain: An interview with Ricky Simms

With the IAAF World Athletics Championships about to get underway in London, Ricky Simms, director of PACE Sports Management, discusses the legacy his client Usain Bolt will leave behind.

Athletics after Usain: An interview with Ricky Simms

Usain Bolt, the fastest man over 100 metres the world has ever known, will run his final solo race on Saturday 5th August, casting a long shadow behind him.

Bolt has been athletics' leading figure, on the track and off it, since he stunned the world with a series of astonishing runs at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. His retirement after the 2017 IAAF World Athletics Championships, which begin this weekend in London, will see him leave behind an incredible legacy, not to mention a series of seemingly unassailable records.

SportsPro spoke to his agent, PACE Sports Management director Ricky Simms, about what athletics after Bolt will look like, and the mark he has made on the world of track and field.

SportsPro: Apart from his records, what will be the legacy of Usain Bolt in athletics? Has he significantly changed the way the sport is managed from a brand and marketing perspective?

Ricky Simms: Usain has been extremely influential in the sport of athletics and his achievements have inspired many people all over the world both in sport and in life. He has shown that anything is possible with talent and hard work. Together I feel we broke through some glass ceilings with what is possible for a track and field athlete. Usain has been consistently listed at the top end of the various ‘Most Marketable’ and ‘Top Earners’ lists, with the majority of his income coming from endorsements.

Kenyan marathon runner Vivian Cheruiyot is another PACE Sports Management client

Forbes estimates that Usain earns ten times more than any other track and field athlete. His comparables for endorsement deals are other global icons like Cristiano Ronaldo, LeBron James, Roger Federer and Lionel Messi. Usain has been, and continues to be, one of the world’s best brand ambassadors and hopefully his influence will open doors for other athletes and athletics properties to work with leading brands in the future. We have already seen an increase in endorsement value for some of the upcoming athletes with sprinters Trayvon Bromell and Andre DeGrasse signing seven figure deals for their first shoe contracts.

Do you think Bolt leaves athletics in a stronger position than it was in when he first burst onto the scene?

Athletics has been through a tough time with off track issues generating negative headlines. I think the current athletics leadership is working extremely hard to rebuild trust and the image of the sport. Although Usain will retire as a competitor I don't expect him to leave the sport. I think he can play an important role in the future of athletics. I believe athletics needs to keep evolving and I know that is something the IAAF president Seb Coe has made one of his main priorities.

The major Championships like the Olympic Games and World Championships are strong products but we need to look at other events to make them more relevant, meaningful, entertaining and attractive for the athletes, fans, media and commercial partners. Earlier this year we introduced a new product called Nitro Athletics in Australia, of which Usain is an equity partner, which was very successful. I know a lot of work is being done behind the scenes and hopefully we will find a formula that works.

British distance runner Mo Farah will make a move into marathons after retiring from 5k and 10k races

Are there athletes emerging now you can see replacing Bolt as the face of athletics? Does the sport, particularly the sprint, face a period similar to post-Schumacher Formula One, with its dominant figure departing?

I don't think anyone can replace Usain. He is a once in a lifetime sportsman. It will be hard for anyone to dominate the sport in the way he did but the beauty of sport is that there are always new faces coming through. Athletics is truly a global sport. We have stars from many different parts of the world. Hopefully what Usain has done in his career can be used as a blueprint for future stars.

I don't think anyone can replace Usain. He is a once in a lifetime sportsman.

What are the challenges for yourself and PACE Sports Management looking forward to the next Olympic cycle?

Our primary role is to help talented athletes excel on and off track at the highest level of the sport. This will continue as we work towards the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020 and beyond. Some of our biggest clients like multiple Olympic and World Champions Usain Bolt, Mo Farah, Vivian Cheruiyot and Christine Ohuruogu will retire from track running (Mo and Vivian will move to marathon) but we have signed some of the best young talent in the world including the likes of Trayvon Bromell (10th fastest 100m runner ever aged 20), Fred Kerley (7th fastest 400m runner ever aged 22) as well as World Junior Champions Dina Asher-Smith, Shamier Little and Jaheel Hyde.

In sports administration we are actively involved in shaping the future of the sport in conjunction with the various stakeholders and we will continue to manage Usain and his business affairs as he enters the next phase of his career.

Recent doping scandals have tarnished athletics’ reputation. How do you think the sport can win back the trust of the wider public?

The IAAF has set up a new independent Athletics Integrity Unit with the responsibility for managing all integrity related issues including the anti-doping programme. This is a big step forward and an example to other sports. Athletics has to continue to take a tough stance against doping and any form of corruption.

I think it is important to distinguish between serious doping offences where an athlete or team is trying to get an unfair advantage and minor rule infractions whether that involves whereabouts issues, stimulants, supplements etc. We need to educate the public and the corporate decision makers to understand the difference.

Do you think that athletics can still provide marketable athletes with whom brands want to be associated?

Absolutely. It is my hope that we will see new products in athletics that will give the best athletes a platform to be recognized outside their sport. Athletics is a tough sport. It is very competitive but people will always be interested in who can run fast, jump high or throw far. We are facing a lot more competition nowadays from other sports and entertainment properties and we have to embrace new technologies to ensure athletes, events and teams are attractive for sponsors.

Ricky Simms is director of PACE Sports Management, an athlete management agency based in London. Follow him on Twitter @SimmsRicky