John Steffensen’s close friendship with Usain Bolt has resulted in a multi-million windfall for Australian athletics amid a global pandemic.
John Steffensen’s close friendship with Usain Bolt has resulted in a multi-million windfall for Australian athletics amid a global pandemic.

Bolt helps Athletics Australia ink monster PUMA deal

Sprint king John Steffensen has orchestrated a multimillion-dollar sponsorship deal for PUMA to kit out Athletics Australia.

At a time sports are struggling for sponsorship dollars, Athletics Australia has signed their biggest ever apparel deal, which News Corp Australia understands is worth more than $5 million over four years.

Olympic silver medallist Steffensen has been a close friend of Jamaican legend Usain Bolt for more than a decade.

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Through Bolt, Steffensen met PUMA boss Bjorn Gulden in 2009, and they've remained in contact since.

With Athletics Australia's sponsorship deal with BLK coming to an end, Steffensen had a chance recent encounter with Gulden in Doha.

"I met Bjorn through Usain, we've been friends for a long time, he's a lover of all sport, he's passionate and someone I really respect, and in business someone I look up to," Steffensen said.

John Steffensen won Olympic silver.
John Steffensen won Olympic silver.

"I was at the warm-up track in Doha and he happened to be there and I just tried to sell him the dream, let him know there could be an opportunity in Australia, and to his credit he was knocking at the door.

"He has an ability to cut through, and see possibilities when people are saying there's no opportunities."

Steffensen, who was part of the 4x400 metre Australian relay team that won silver at the 2004 Athens Games, had a fraught relationship with Athletics Australia while competing, and boycotted the 2010 Commonwealth Games after accusing officials of mismanaging athletes.

After retirement, he joined their board, then stepped down to take on the general manager commercial role, but left that position and has swung this much-needed financial deal as a consultant.

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"I love the sport, and I made a lot of noise during my career and highlighted failures of how they failed athletes and coaches, I'm trying to right the wrongs," Steffensen said.

"Seeing our young kids wearing the best apparel when they're running for Australia, if that gives them one-tenth of a second extra to go from second place to first, then it's worth it.

"I don't want accolades, I've had my time in running, it's about making sure we leave the sport in a better place, that is how it will grow."

Aussie track stars Anneliese Rubie-Renshaw, Ella Nelson, Michelle Jenneke and Henry Smith have individual deals with PUMA, who signed Bolt in 2005.

All Athletics Australia athletes, coaches and staff will be kitted in gear as part of the deal, and the brand will be worn at all events outside of Olympics and Commonwealth Games, which require clean uniforms so as not to clash with tournament sponsors.

 

Australian 400m champion Anneliese Rubie-Renshaw. Picture: Phil Hillyard
Australian 400m champion Anneliese Rubie-Renshaw. Picture: Phil Hillyard

 

Athletics has been one of the hardest-hit sports during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with this year's Tokyo Games postponed until 2021 and several international meets cancelled.

Athletics Australia chief executive Darren Gocher said: "Being able to bring this significant deal together in the midst of a global pandemic demonstrates the strength and value of Athletics Australia to commercial partners."

PUMA Oceania general manager Pancho Gutstein added: "Australia has a stable of elite and emerging athletes who will shine on the world stage over the coming years."

 

 

Originally published as Bolt helps Athletics Australia ink monster PUMA deal



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