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Ex-Gibbs High track star Bromell cashes in by turning pro, but there are pitfalls

“What I try to represent when I run is possibility,” 20-year-old Trayvon Bromell says. “I want everyone to have hope, that good things are out there.”
“What I try to represent when I run is possibility,” 20-year-old Trayvon Bromell says. “I want everyone to have hope, that good things are out there.”
Published Nov. 1, 2015

Trayvon Bromell loves shoes, particularly sneakers. The sprinting star spent years selling them at Tyrone Square Mall. He also owns a lot of shoes, including more than four dozen pairs when he was at Gibbs High.

Bromell in some ways still is selling sneakers, albeit on a much larger scale. Two weeks ago, the Baylor University sophomore — an Olympic hopeful in the 100 meters — decided to forgo his remaining college eligibility by signing a multiyear endorsement deal with New Balance.

Track stars who compete as individuals on a professional level rely on the money from shoe contracts and appearance fees at big meets as their primary source of income. That is different from most other professional athletes who sign contracts with a team and use the money from endorsement deals with sneaker companies to supplement their income.

The amount track stars earn is hard to gauge because most do not reveal how much a deal is worth. Ricky Simms, the agent who represents Bromell, said he could not discuss the New Balance numbers because of a client confidentiality agreement.

"Trayvon is one of the world's most talented young athletes and has the potential to have a great career," said Simms, who also represents world record-holder Usain Bolt. "His ultimate earning potential will depend on a number of factors, primarily his on-track performances.

"Generally, holding titles like the 'world's fastest man, the 'Olympic champion' or the 'world champion' (and of course multiple titles help even more) will enable an athlete to command higher fees for appearances, endorsements and competitions."

Bolt, a two-time defending Olympic champion in the 100 and 200 meters, still is the barometer by which the sport is measured — in time and monetary worth. Forbes listed Bolt's earnings this year at $21 million, which ranks 73rd in the magazine's list of the world's highest-paid athletes.

Bolt has a reported $10 million a year deal with Puma. His appearance fees are $250,000, according to Forbes.

Former Hernando High and Florida standout John Capel, who finished eighth in the 200 meters at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, became a full-time professional runner in 2002 after a brief stint in the NFL.

Capel, who signed with Adidas, said his multiyear deal paid him six figures annually, but the contract was under review every year.

"If you're one of the best, you're going to make good money," Capel said. "I was also getting $25,000 in appearance fees, especially if I was one of the marquee guys at a meet. But there were all kinds of stipulations and clauses and bonuses in the contract.

"If you're among the top three in the world in your event, you can make a lot. If you fall to 10th in the world, if you go from running a 9.8 in the 100 to a 10-flat, you could lose, say, $150,000."

Capel, 37, who runs a track program in Hernando that mentors young athletes, said he regrets turning pro that early in his running career.

"The worst decision I ever made," Capel said. "When you're in college, everything is structured. You're performing for your scholarship, and you have people who are always on you telling you what to do. Once you turn pro, you're the one paying your coach. You're his boss. There's really no one pushing you.

"And the money can go quickly, especially if you get used to a certain lifestyle. It's just a different animal. When you're fast, everyone loves you. When you're not, people walk away."

• • •

Bromell, 20, said he is focused on training and has yet to spend any of his money. He still is attending classes and training at Baylor.

"I'm really geared toward becoming the best runner I can be," he said. "I let everyone else handle everything else."

Bromell's drive helped him become one of the premier up-and-coming sprinters in the world and put him on the fast track toward the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

In two years at Baylor, he already had set numerous records and was an NCAA outdoor champion in the 100 and indoor champion in the 200.

He is the world junior record-holder in the 100 (9.97 seconds) and the school record-holder in the event (9.76). He also was the Big 12 freshman of the year in 2014 and the Big 12 performer of the year this past season.

With little else to prove at the collegiate level, Bromell decided now was the time to turn pro.

"It was 50-50 going one way or the way," he said. "The more I thought about it, I could have got hurt and ended any chance of what I could have made as a professional runner. It just seemed like the right time."

There were several shoe companies bidding for Bromell to wear their brand on his fast feet.

New Balance was known more for its sponsorship of distance runners such as Jenny Simpson, an American steeplechase record-holder from Oviedo.

The company was looking to venture into the sprinting world. But there were certain criteria New Balance wanted in whoever was selected to represent this line.

"We were very patient," said Tom Carleo, vice president of running at New Balance. "We wanted someone who was young, preferably just out of college. And we didn't want someone who was already associated with another brand.

"We were looking for someone fresh. Trayvon was just the perfect kid. We sort of have an underdog mentality as a company, and he fits in with some of the obstacles he's had to overcome."

That Bromell is in a position to supplant the top sprinters for the title of world's fastest human was nearly unthinkable five years ago, when he started going through a series of serious injuries. He broke both his knees, fractured a forearm and cracked a hip his first three years at Gibbs. His senior year was his only full high school season in track.

"When I met with New Balance, they had already done their research," Bromell said. "They knew everything about me and what I went through to get to the top. That let me know that they looked at me not only as another runner but part of their family."

By signing with New Balance, Bromell can make money while competing against elite competition in preparation for the Olympic Trials and a run at the Summer Games. He also will have the means to set up a foundation to give back to kids in St. Petersburg.

"We haven't discussed what it would be, whether it's scholarship or money going toward the local track programs," Bromell said. "But New Balance is on board with all of it. They understand the movement I'm trying to bring.

"What I try to represent when I run is possibility. I want everyone to have hope, that good things are out there."

As for the shoes, Bromell will mostly be promoting New Balance's Vazee collection, a series of lightweight sneakers designed to increase speed. The company also plans to unveil a signature shoe for Bromell in the summer.

"(New Balance) wanted someone fast for this shoe," Bromell said. "I've been wearing them already and people like them. I'm sure there will be even more publicity when the new shoe comes out.

"It's crazy to think about, having your own sneaker."

And it's sure to take a prominent spot in his already huge collection.

Contact Bob Putnam at bputnam@tampabay.com. Follow @BobbyHomeTeam.