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The Beauty of Bandit Running’s Unsponsored Project

bandit unsponsored project

What You Need To Know

What

Bandit Running’s Unsponsored Project

Where

U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials

Why

To bring attention to unsponsored athletes

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Photo courtesy of Bandit Running

Unsponsored

Running has a sponsor problem. That’s Bandit Running’s view, anyway, and the chic apparel brand out of New York City is looking to change that with the Unsponsored Project at the 2024 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials.

Photo courtesy of Bandit Running

Photo courtesy of Bandit Running

When Bandit says there’s a sponsor problem, they mean it. Also, they’re not wrong. In the absence of sponsor money, track and field athletes often find themselves running roads in the morning and getting on the side hustle treadmill in the afternoons, working part-time (or even full-time) jobs in run specialty stores, coffee shops, babysitting– you name it. We’re talking about sub-elite and elite runners, the ones showing up to race for a spot on the Olympic team. If a job exists, a runner has surely worked it.

And yet, on race day, they still have to show up in footwear and apparel adorned with brand logos, essentially acting as a running billboard that gives free advertising space to brands who don’t give a shit whether the athlete loses but will gladly take the camera time when that same athlete wins.

Photo courtesy of Bandit Running

Photo courtesy of Bandit Running

Such is the life of an unsponsored athlete. Race in the Trials and two days later they’re pulling espresso shots for a woman named Madelynn.

The problem isn’t new, but it has been hidden. The general public sees a runner on the start line and assumes they’re all wearing sponsor gear, unaware that the athlete paid for everything from head to toe out of their own pocket. 

Bandit’s trying to change that by bringing more visibility to athletes on the big stage. The way they’re doing it is– quite honestly– brilliant. Eschewing bold logos and branding, Bandit is going the quiet fashion route, providing a range of unbranded gear to over 30 athletes, including singlets, crops, quarter-tights, buns, and warm-ups. 

The goal? To call attention to the unsponsored athlete, allowing them “to openly declare their independence as they chase their Olympic dreams.” If you’re watching the Trials, you may have already seen them. Black kits, no branding, a shadow standing tall against their sponsored rivals.

Additionally, each athlete participating in the Unsponsored Project will receive cash compensation to help cover the various expenses associated with training and competing at the Olympic Trials. Bandit Running is also introducing release clauses in these agreements, ensuring that athletes remain free to accept traditional sponsorship offers that may arise during the competition.

The inaugural launch of the Unsponsored Project came in in 2023, with nine athletes donning unbranded singlets and crops at US Outdoors. After the meet, one of those unsponsored athletes was able to secure a full-time sponsorship agreement with a major footwear brand.

Photo courtesy of Bandit Running

Photo courtesy of Bandit Running

By providing support to these athletes, Bandit is empowering them during competition while building community around the event itself, encouraging fans to support the athletes during the Trials. It’s an innovative approach that shows Bandit’s commitment to the sport and the athletes who drive it forward while receiving little in return. 

And it’s just great marketing, a win-win for everyone involved. 

Look for athletes in The Unsponsored Project at the U.S. Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Oregon, now until June 30, 2024.

Learn More About The Unsponsored Project
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Robbe Reddinger
Senior Editor
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Robbe is the senior editor of Believe in the Run. He loves going on weird routes through Baltimore, finding trash on the ground, and running with the Faster Bastards. At home in the city, but country at heart. Loves his two boys more than anything. Has the weakest ankles in the game.

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