Blackstone Billionaire Funds Olympic Track Stars as Sponsorships Evaporate

Image Credit: iStock, flytosky11

Sign up for smart news, insights, and analysis on the biggest financial stories of the day.

One of the world’s richest men has quietly become a top backer of U.S. Olympic track and field athletes, just as leading shoe companies have drastically slashed their sponsorship budgets.

Blackstone founder and $29 billion man Stephen Schwarzman has donated $12 million since 2013 to the USA Track & Field Foundation. That makes him the biggest individual donor to U.S. track athletes training for the Olympic Games.

Just Don’t Do It

Unlike pro players who rake in sizable salaries, many Olympic athletes only collect earnings from sponsorships and donations. Take long jumper Brittney Reese — the gold medalist’s guaranteed income this year is only $25,000, all of which is thanks to a grant funded by Schwarzman.

And major shoe brands that once counted sponsorships as a core marketing strategy have been sprinting away from the practice at speeds that would impress Usain Bolt:

  • According to new filings released Wednesday, Under Armour cut its sports sponsorships 47% last year to $362 million, down from $679 million in 2019.
  • And Nike took a frugal approach to the pandemic, cutting $250 million in spending and trimming sponsorship deals for some olympic athletes by up to half. The company’s overall sponsorship obligations fell 8% last year.

“A lot of these athletes really live hand to mouth, and this is hard to believe, they have to choose between eating and where they can live,” Schwarzman told the Financial Times.

Strictly Personal: Despite its founder’s philanthropic persuasion, Blackstone will not be joining rival firms like CVC Capital Partners and Dyal Capital in the recent cascade of private capital into sports, according to Schwarzman.