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Athlete Colleen Quigley on Lululemon partnership: ‘It’s more than just, if you get a medal you get paid’

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Colleen Quigley, USA Track & Field star, 2016 Olympian & lululemon Ambassador, joins Yahoo Finance to discuss the shift in sponsorships between sponsors and athletes and Quigley’s partnership with Lululemon.

Video Transcript

- After the Tokyo games, you're probably still associating those big names like Nike to the big athletes. But there's a trend among elite female athletes and moving away from some of those gargantuan companies in favor of smaller sponsors, and Colleen Quigley is a steeple chaser who represented the United States at the 2016 Olympics. And she joins us now from Portland, Oregon. Thanks for joining us.

Uh, now you left Nike this year for Lululemon, which is certainly not a small company but smaller, uh, than Nike. So I guess just to start off broadly, Colleen, why did you decide to make the change?

COLLEEN QUIGLEY: Yeah, I mean, so many factors went into that, um, both personal, um, as well as like financial. Basically, I've been with Nike since 2015 when I graduated from Florida State University and went pro as a track and field athlete. And signed with Nike and joined the team out here in Portland then, um, had a great five-year run with them.

But I think you know when I got to the end of that, I just decided that they weren't giving me really what I needed off of the track and not really seeing me as anything more than just a runner. And I became-- you know, I-- I started to see myself as more than a runner, and I like to do a lot of different things, I have different initiatives that I'm working on, um, really focusing on young athletes and young female athletes. So Lululemon really supports me in all of those kind of endeavors and-- and really values me, you knoe, as that whole person, which is really what, you know, drew me to them.

- So, Colleen, then really, what does an ideal partnership or sponsorship from one of these brands really look like? And why do you think you can get that perhaps at-- again, Lululemon not being the smallest of brands, but why do you think you can get that from a smaller brand instead of a-- a-- a big brand like at Nike or at Adidas?

COLLEEN QUIGLEY: Yeah, I mean, the small examples, um, they're-- it's a big thing to me. I have a-- a movement on Instagram I call Fast Braid Friday. And I braid my hair, um, and talk about how doing something so simple as, you know, putting a braid in your hair can give you confidence and make you feel really good about yourself when you're trying to go attack a big challenge in your life. Um, so I host braid bars sometimes when I'm in different cities for different events. Like if I'm, uh, in New York City for a race, I've hosted braid bars and invited girls and women to come out and get their hair braided for free and get little goodie bags, and we take pictures, and, um, just kind of make an event out of it.

And that's something that I never got support in before, but now, um, Lululemon wants to do more stuff like that with me. We're actually going to host one in October around the Chicago Marathon this fall. And so we're just really leaning into those things off the track. Um, it's something that I'm really looking forward to with this new partnership.

- Now, Colleen, I guess for people who don't understand how the sponsorship world works, I mean, what do contracts look like when you're talking or engaging with these types of companies. I personally wouldn't know-- I have eight-minute mile splits, so I don't think I'll ever find out. But what is it like when you engage with them and talk to them about, hey, this is what I want to do, this is what I feel like I should be properly paid for?

COLLEEN QUIGLEY: Yeah, so traditionally, it's very transactional. So you run this time, you qualify for this team, you place top three, and you get paid this amount. And if you don't perform, and you don't make the team, and you don't get a medal, then you don't get paid. So it just is this very transactional relationship, whereas my contract with Lululemon is much more inclusive.

Like, they see me as more than just kind of a results machine. And they realize the impact that I have on social media or the work that I do with young athletes all over the country, whether that's virtually during a global pandemic or whether that's putting on in-person camps with high school athletes, or college, or even grade school athletes. They really see all of those things.

So it's more than just if you get a medal, you get paid. You know, it's really seeing me as everything that I have to bring to the table. But that is a different model. And I would say that is atypical. Most of the contracts and how they work with track and field, and I'm guessing with lots of sports, but definitely for track and field, is very transactional. And really, all of the kind of traditional brands really just see you as a results machine, and what you can perform, and what you can give them on the track is really the only thing that they value.

And so I was really proud to partner with Lululemon, because they saw that there was so much more potential than that. And that was really just scratching the surface of what matters and what's important. And I think we saw that even this summer just a couple weeks ago with Simone Biles not competing for many of her events in Tokyo, but still making a huge impact even with pulling out of the competition. She was still able to send a huge message and make a big impact. So that's just one example of you don't have to be on top of the podium to really send a strong message.

KRISTIN MYERS: So we're running out of time here--

BRIAN CHEUNG: Oh, go ahead, Kristin.

KRISTIN MYERS: Yes. Stepping on-- I have a six-minute mile split, Brian. I just wanted to quickly say.

COLLEEN QUIGLEY: Tell him. Tell him.

KRISTIN MYERS: It's a lie, Colleen, I'm actually totally lying. I run, like, 15-minute miles, it's actually really pathetic. But in the water, though, I'm good. I have a really quick question here for you-- a two-parter. So one, you're calling these contracts really transactional.

I'm just curious to know, one, how harmful that is-- that transactional nature-- to athletes, particularly female athletes. And then two, I just have a bit of a pushback-- what do you say, then, to the critics who say, OK, when you have a sponsorship or you have a contract, that is essentially a job. And like most of us, when you have a job it is transactional. And if you don't perform to the best of your ability, if you start dropping the ball in the corporate world, you end up getting fired or you might see some salary cutbacks. What do you say to that type of criticism?

COLLEEN QUIGLEY: Yeah. I mean, I think the perfect example to that is Allyson Felix. She's the most decorated track and field athlete of all-time. And she was sponsored by Nike up until just a couple of years ago when she decided to get pregnant and had her daughter, Cami, and Nike wasn't going to support her through that pregnancy.

And so she decided to step away and sign with another brand. And actually this summer with her daughter at home, because they weren't allowed to travel, but with Cami watching, she got a medal in two events-- a gold in the 4 by 4 and a bronze in the 400, and I think matched or was her second-fastest time that she'd ever run in her life. And this is not her first Olympic Games. She's been to five Games now.

And it's just amazing to watch her go through that whole struggle, and really believe in herself, And know that she could do that-- at least I think she knew that she could do that-- and come out and say, you know, I can be a mom, I can go through this and still be an athlete and do my job. And I think she knows she'll have an impact far after she's done running and racing as well, because she stood up for herself in that way. So that's just one example, but there's many examples like that of athletes who put themselves first, and believed in themselves, and yeah just ended up with a great message.

BRIAN CHEUNG: And then, lastly, you ran at Florida State. And I guess I'm just wondering if I could get your color on just the change in the NCAA policy with now allowing athletes to profit off of their name, image, and likeness. Do you think that would have changed the game for you personally? Would you have tried to engage with sponsors if you were in school now and able to do this?

COLLEEN QUIGLEY: Yeah. I mean, even-- I graduated in 2015, I remember getting Instagram when I was in college, which makes me feel so old. But college athletes now are so savvy, and they really do know how to market themselves, they know how to share their journey and kind of share with their followers just like the pros do. And actually, to be honest, they do it a lot better than some professional athletes do-- sharing the ins and outs of their training and kind of ups and downs of what they're going through.

And that's really what the fans want to see. That's what they kind of tune in for. So I'm all for it and I've definitely been talking to some college athletes about how they can really utilize NIL and monetize off their name, image, likeness during their time in college. And yeah, I think it's awesome. It gives more power to the athletes and lets them really tell their own story and be in charge of their life and in charge of their future.

BRIAN CHEUNG: Don't feel bad-- I think Kristin got Instagram even after that. So I think you're good. But Olympian Colleen Quigley--

KRISTIN MYERS: No, if you feel old, I feel even older-- my god.

COLLEEN QUIGLEY: It's wild. It's wild, but I'm going to go through 2024, even 2028-- 2028 will be in LA, 2024 in Paris. So I ain't done yet.

BRIAN CHEUNG: All right, we'll keep an eye on that. Olympian Colleen Quigley, thanks again for stopping by Yahoo Finance--

COLLEEN QUIGLEY: Thanks, guys.

BRIAN CHEUNG: This afternoon.