Pro Runners’ Salaries: How Much Do Professional Runners Make? We Unveil One of The Sport’s Biggest Secrets

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LRC Pro Contracts Poll Data Revealed: Find Out How Much (Agents Think) Galen Rupp, Matthew Centrowitz, Allyson Felix & More Make

By LetsRun.com
September 7, 2018

Track and field fans generally have no idea how much money their favorite athletes make as endorsement contracts are kept private. We decided to try to do something about that. Last month, we reached out to many of the world’s top track and field agents and, on the condition of anonymity, five of them agreed to estimate how much they think some of the sport’s biggest stars make from their shoe contracts. Then, for fun, we also reached out to you, the reader, for your estimates.

Now, it’s time to reveal the results of our surveys.

But before we get to numbers in great detail, let’s start with a specific example. Consider two distance runners.

Runner A is 27 years old. He earned an Olympic bronze medal in 2016. In 2017, he set the course record at one of the world’s most competitive marathons — and then ran faster on that same course in 2018. He also earned a World Championship silver medal in 2017. He owns PRs of 26:57/59:37/2:04:06 (and has also run 2:04:11).

Runner B is 32 years old. He earned an Olympic bronze medal in 2016 and a silver in 2012. In 2017, he won a World Marathon Major. He has no World Championship medals. He owns PRs of 26:44/59:47/2:06:07.

Runner A and Runner B have raced three times in their career. In race #1, at the 2016 Olympics, Runner A beat Runner B by two seconds. In race #2, at a half marathon in 2017, Runner A beat Runner B by 2:22. In race #3, both men DNF’d.

Here are the agents’ estimates of those two runners’ contracts:

Runner A: $93,750
Runner B: $758,333

How can that be? Well runner A is Tamirat Tola of Ethiopia and runner B is Galen Rupp of the United States.

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One of the reasons we wanted to do this project was to give the running community a better idea of the financial realities of the sport. And one of those realities: it matters where you’re from (and possibly who you know). Yes, Rupp is one of the better marathoners in the world, but so is Tola. And even though Rupp has zero presence on social media and rarely shares his personality with the public, our agents still estimate Rupp’s shoe deal is worth more than eight times as much as Tola’s. In fact, our agents estimate that Rupp has the highest base shoe contract of 25 distance runners we asked about. Eliud Kipchoge is unquestionably a better marathoner than Rupp — Kipchoge is the greatest marathoner in history, as a matter of fact — and his times/medal record on the track were better than Rupp’s. But Kipchoge is Kenyan whereas Rupp has been the male face of American distance running for much of this decade, and as a result, our agents guessed that Nike pays Rupp over $200,000 per year more than Kipchoge.

Similarly, the agents estimate that Olympic 1500 champion Matthew Centrowitz of the US makes 10 times much money as the world’s best 1500 runner in 2018, Timothy Cheruiyot of Kenya, a man whom Centrowitz has never beaten in four career head-to-head contests.

***

Embed from Getty Images

Another note before we reveal the specific data. Please remember that while agents are certainly in a better position to know how much the pros make than the average fan, the below figures are all estimates and they vary widely. We tried to include as many agents as possible in our poll, figuring the more responses we got, the better idea we’d have of what a certain athlete is worth, but it’s clear that only those who actually negotiated or signed the contract know how much someone is worth as even the estimates by the agents vary a great deal. For example, one agent thinks Emma Coburn is paid a base of $175,000 from New Balance while another agent thinks she makes nearly three times as much ($500,000).

One agent, who declined our invitation to participate in the survey, explained why he or she wasn’t participating as follows:

[I’m not against the exercise] in principle, but I worry about the accuracy and the effect it will have. There are many in the sport – agents included – who think they know, but really don’t. Without accurate results, it could cause problems with athletes/agents who are honest and reward those who lie and engage in misinformation. 

I agree that the lack of knowledge/rumor part of earnings in our sport doesn’t help to make it more professional and popular. Not sure if this just feeds the rumors and makes the problem even worse. I, frankly, don’t think there are 7 agents in the business who know enough to be helpful.

The additional problem is that some shoe companies also spread misinformation – if they don’t sign someone, it’s always because someone else paid “stupid money” and they weren’t willing to do that….  I have heard shoe company people give me numbers that are more than double what I can verify the athlete actually makes. And then I’ve heard agents in lobbies floating those same numbers out there like they are facts because they heard it from a shoe company. 

And there is also the issue of how it is counted. Some contracts may appear lower but have MUCH better protections from reductions, etc. and there are some which have an inflated number but big reductions for no medals – some even if no gold.

***

Show Me the Money!

When we initially announced this project two weeks ago, we had data from five agents but put out a call to any others that were interested in participating. We heard back from one “insider” who works for a shoe company and has insight into athlete contracts. We have also included the estimates from this insider in the data below.

We also heard some interesting anecdotes while collecting information for this story. For instance, our insider told us about a situation from a few years ago in which his company and another company were competing to win the services of a female NCAA champion. The insider was told by the athlete’s agent that the rival company had matched the deal, and the athlete signed with the rival company. Later, however, our insider found out that the rival company had not matched the deal; the athlete in question had actually signed a contract worth $30,000 per year less than what the insider’s company was offering. The reason? Our insider said the athlete’s agent never told the athlete about the higher offer.

As far as how the data was collected, we sent a document to each agent with the following instructions:

For each athlete listed, please put your best estimate for their 2018 base shoe contract in US dollars (if you prefer to use a different currency, please make a note of it). You do not need to provide an estimate for athletes that you represent.

That means that the values below do not include appearance fees (except for the specific marathon appearance fee section), prize money, or sponsorship money from non-shoe sponsors. It should also be noted that the shoe contracts themselves often contain bonuses or reduction clauses for hitting or failing to hit certain targets. (We explained reduction clauses in greater detail when we discussed the Boris Berian contract in 2016). So even if the agent’s estimates for the base shoe contracts below are correct, an athlete could actually be taking home a different amount depending on which bonuses they hit and how much prize money they earned. And don’t forget the agent’s cut as well, which typically runs around 15%.

For each athlete, we listed the lowest agent estimate, the highest agent estimate, and the average of all agents’ estimates, as well as the median guess from the LRC readers. We also told the agents that if there was an athlete for which they truly had no idea how much they were making, they could leave their guess for that athlete blank — though we had at least three agent guesses for every athlete below. We granted anonymity to all agents who participated in the survey.

Okay, on to the data!

Jenny Simpson and Emma Coburn in Paris in 2016 (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly)

Jenny Simpson and Emma Coburn in Paris in 2016 (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly)

Distance Stars

AthleteLowHighAgent AverageLRC readers
Eliud Kipchoge$300,000$750,000$512,500$500,000
Jenny Simpson$450,000$750,000$591,666$200,000
Emma Coburn$175,000$500,000$345,833$180,000
Galen Rupp$500,000$1,000,000$758,333$500,000
Tamirat Tola$75,000$100,000$93,750$100,000
Evan Jager$150,000$350,000$250,000$200,000
Muktar Edris$75,000$200,000$127,500$100,000
Edward Cheserek$100,000$200,000$140,000$150,000
Ajee Wilson$175,000$300,000$229,166$145,000
Mary Cain (peak)$150,000$400,000$275,000$150,000
Mary Cain (2018)0$100,000$41,667$50,000
Alexa Efraimson$100,000$250,000$166,666$75,000
Courtney Frerichs (1st year out of school)$30,000$75,000$60,000$45,000
Courtney Frerichs (2018)$80,000$175,000$131,000$50,000
Kenenisa Bekele (peak)$350,000$1,000,000$583,333$500,000
Kenenisa Bekele (2018)$100,000$400,000$210,000$200,000

distance_stars

Notes

  • One agent guessed zero for 2018 Mary Cain, another guessed “maybe zero,” which we counted as zero in our data.
  • Our insider, who guessed $150,000 for Evan Jager‘s contract, noted that “Jager was approaching other companies because he was frustrated [with his contract].”
  • The agents believe that Jenny Simpson makes almost three times as much as the LRC readers believe.
  • One agent added that Eliud Kipchoge likely makes an additional $100,000 per year from NN, which sponsors Kipchoge’s team/training group.
How much is an Olympic gold worth?

How much is an Olympic gold worth?

1500m Men

AthleteLowHighAgent averageLRC readers
Matthew Centrowitz$400,000$1,000,000$650,000$400,000
Timothy Cheruiyot$50,000$85,000$65,000$100,000
Elijah Manangoi$30,000$120,000$71,250$100,000
Leo Manzano$75,000$150,000$119,000$60,000
Andrew Wheating (peak)$400,000$750,000$606,666$150,000
Asbel Kiprop0$500,000$191,666$200,000

1500_stars

Notes

  • Two agents guessed zero for Asbel Kiprop, believing that his Nike contract would be voided following his positive EPO test in November 2017, though one of those agents said he would have guessed $250,000 for Kiprop at his peak. Another noted: “Nike athletes must race every 6 months to receive retainer” (Kiprop hasn’t raced since August 2017).
  • LRC readers differed greatly from the agents’ estimates on Andrew Wheating‘s peak contract. We side with the agents on this one. Remember, when Wheating signed with Nike as a 22-year-old in July 2010, his potential appeared to be enormous. He had already made an Olympic team at age 20. In 2010, he became the first man in 26 years to win the 800 and 1500 at NCAAs and, one week before signing his contract, ran 3:30.90 for 1500 in Monaco — making him just the fourth American ever under 3:31. There is no way he was only making $150,000 at his peak. Our insider agrees as he said, “I’ll be close as a former employee told me $650,000.”
Sydney McLaughlin is set to get paid (photo by Bert Richardson)

Sydney McLaughlin is set to get paid
(photo by Bert Richardson)

Sprint Stars

AthleteLowHighAgent averageLRC readers
Michael Norman$300,000$1,000,000$641,666$200,000
Sydney McLaughlin (2019)$850,000$2,000,000$1,725,000$450,000
Noah Lyles$450,000$1,000,000$590,000$250,000
Allyson Felix0$1,000,000$520,000$500,000
Justin Gatlin$250,000$1,000,000$430,000$250,000
Christian Coleman$400,000$1,000,000$758,333$250,000


sprint_stars

Notes

  • Sydney McLaughlin, who, as of this writing, has still not signed with a shoe sponsor, generated the highest contract estimates of any athlete by far. Five of the six responses we received estimated McLaughlin would receive at least $1.5 million for her 2019 base salary. “$2 million is what I am hearing from Under Armour,” wrote our insider.
  • Christian Coleman was tied with Rupp for the largest salary for a male athlete (among ones we asked about), according to the agents: $758,333.
  • Regarding Michael Norman, who signed with Nike this summer, our insider wrote: “His USC coach (Caryl Smith Gilbert) gets 10% of any contract from any athlete that signs with Nike.”
  • One agent guessed zero for Allyson Felix, who has been mysteriously absent from the circuit this year. Another agent guessed $250,000 but noted that her contract expired at the end of 2017. Felix raced only five times this year, none in Diamond Leagues, and hasn’t raced since June 16 — the week before USAs. Her season’s best of 51.35 in the 400 ranks her 45th on the 2018 world list.

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Field Eventers

AthleteLowHighAgent averageLRC readers
Joe Kovacs$40,000*$60,000$50,000$70,000
Ryan Crouser$60,000$100,000$88,000$75,000
Vashti Cunningham$75,000$200,000$114,166$100,000
Marquis Dendy$30,000$75,000$51,000$60,000
Christian Taylor$100,000$385,000$237,000$125,000
Raven Saunders$15,000$50,000$32,000$60,000
Michelle Carter$50,000$100,000$70,000$75,000


field_stars

Notes

  • For Kovacs’ salary, one of our agents put “stock options.” We did not include that in our data and instead averaged the remaining guesses. Kovacs is sponsored by Velaasa.
  • One agent, who represents exclusively track/road athletes, only submitted an estimate for one of the field event athletes, writing “No idea, but very little $ in the throwing events.”
 Ben Blankenship © Getty Images for IAAF

Ben Blankenship © Getty Images for IAAF

Other Distance Runners

AthleteLowHighAgent averageLRC readers
Charlene Lipsey$30,000$200,000$81,667$65,000
Erik Sowinski$25,000$60,000$40,000$60,000
Elle Purrier$35,000$125,000$91,250$50,000
Ben Blankenship$50,000$70,000$56,000$65,000
Isaiah Harris$75,000$350,000$140,000$70,000
Sam Prakel$15,000$100,000$55,000$50,000
Erin Clark$15,000$40,000$26,666$40,000


distance_b_stars

Notes

  • For Erin Clark, the recent Colorado grad who signed with Hoka ONE ONE, one agent wrote “probably overpaid but no idea.”
  • Prakel never finished higher than third at NCAAs but one agent estimated that his adidas deal is worth $100,000 annually.
  • The guesses on 2018 NCAA mile champion Elle Purrier‘s contract with New Balance varied widely. One agent guessed $125,000, while another, who does not work with any American clients, wrote “no contract I would assume” when asked about Purrier.

2018 Boston Marathon Men’s Appearance Fees

We know that you may not have heard of every athlete in the 2018 Boston Marathon elite fields, so for the next two sections, we have provided a brief biography of each runner in order for you to get a sense of their abilities.

AthleteLowHighMean averageLRC readers
Tamirat Tola$40,000$50,000$43,333$40,000
Country: Ethiopia
PB: 2:04:06
Broke CR in Dubai last year, then silver at Worlds. Oly 10k bronze
Lemi Berhanu$30,000$75,000$51,667$25,000
Country: Ethiopia
PB: 2:04:33
2016 champ was a DNF last year
Lelisa Desisa$50,000$125,000$78,333$40,000
Country: Ethiopia
PB: 2:04:45
2-time champ was 3rd in NYC in Nov.
Nobert Kigen$20,000$30,000$25,000$15,000
Country: Kenya
PB: 2:05:13
Ran 2:06 and 2:05 in his 2 marathons last year
Wilson Chebet$25,000$40,000$30,000$18,750
Country: Kenya
PB: 2:05:27
3-time Amsterdam champ was famously 2nd behind Meb in ’14. 5th in ’17.
Evans Chebet$15,000$30,000$23,333$15,000
Country: Kenya
PB: 2:05:30
Two top-4 finishes in majors; coming off PB in Valencia in Nov.
Felix Kandie$10,000$25,000$20,000$10,000
Country: Kenya
PB: 2:06:03
Has run 2:06 in his last 3 marathons, including 4th in Berlin last fall
Geoffrey Kirui (reigning champ)$100,000$150,000$125,000$35,000
Country: Kenya
PB: 2:06:27
Defending champ won Worlds and was our World #1 in ’17
Philemon Rono$15,000$30,000$21,667$10,000
Country: Kenya
PB: 2:06:52
Set PR/CR to win 2nd straight Toronto Marathon in Oct
Abdi Nageeye$10,000$25,000$18,333$5,000
Country: Netherlands
PB: 2:08:16
Set national record to finish 9th in Amsterdam last year
Lusapho April$7,500$15,000$10,833$5,000
Country: South Africa PB: 2:08:32 Notes: Best finish of 13th in two attempts in Boston
Arne Gabius$15,000$25,000$20,000$5,000
Country: Germany
PB: 2:08:33
6th in Frankfurt last year
Reid Coolsaet$10,000$15,000$11,667$5,000
Country: Canada
PB: 2:10:28
Ran 2:10 in Fukuoka in December at age 38
Stephen Sambu$10,000$40,000$23,333$5,000
Country: Kenya
PB: 2:11:07
Has finished 5th in Chicago the last 2 years
Eric Gillis$5,000$15,000$10,000$3,125
Country: Canada
PB: 2:11:21
10th at 2016 Olympics
Abdi Abdirahman$20,000$50,000$36,667$10,000
Country: USA
PB: 2:08:56
At 40, was still the top American in NYC last year
Galen Rupp$125,000$150,000$141,667$85,000
Country: USA
PB: 2:09:20
2nd last year, then won Chicago. Olympic bronze.
Ryan Vail$10,000$20,000$16,667$5,795
Country: USA
PB: 2:10:57
2:12 for 8th in Berlin last year
Elkanah Kibet$10,000$10,000$10,000$4,000
Country: USA
PB: 2:11:31
2:11:31 in his debut but hasn’t come within 2 mins of that since; 16th at ’17 Worlds
Timothy Ritchie$5,000$20,000$11,667$3,250
Country: USA
PB: 2:11:56
Ran big PR of 2:11 to win CIM/US champs in December
Shadrack Biwott$5,000$25,000$13,333$5,000
Country: USA
PB: 2:12:01
Rupp’s college teammate was 4th last year
Scott Smith$5,000$25,000$13,333$2,000
Country: USA
PB: 2:12:21
Coming off PR in Frankfurt last fall
Andrew Bumbalough$5,000$15,000$10,000$3,000
Country: USA
PB: 2:13:58
25th in Tokyo, 13th in Chicago in his two marathons so far


boston_men_appearance

Notes

  • We included 2018 Boston champion Yuki Kawauchi in our survey but multiple agents pointed out that Kawauchi’s status as a government employee prevented him from accepting an appearance fee (he has since announced plans to turn professional, which means he should collect a healthy appearance fee from Boston in 2019). Two agents put a guess on what Kawauchi would have received had he accepted an appearance fee; one put $20,000, the other $25,000.
  • Appearance fees appear to be higher than LRC nation realizes — LRC guessed a lower appearance fee than the agents for every single male athlete.
  • A note about appearance fees: like shoe contracts, there are frequently several qualifiers included in an appearance contract. Sometimes the pay can be reduced if an athlete drops out or fails to hit a minimum time. In addition, as in the case of Kellyn Taylor this year, an athlete may not be able to compete in another marathon for a certain period of time (in Taylor’s case, 60 days). It is unclear how strictly John Hancock (the elite athlete sponsor at Boston) enforced these contracts given the freak weather at this year’s race.

2018 Boston Marathon Women’s Appearance Fees

AthleteLowHighMean averageLRC readers
Aselefech Mergia$40,000$75,000$63,333$10,000
Country: Ethiopia
PB: 2:19:31
Has won Dubai 3x and London 1x. 3rd at ’17 London
Deena Kastor$10,000$25,000$17,500$10,000
Country: USA
PB: 2:19:36

Now 45, she’s no longer a contender to win
Edna Kiplagat (reigning champ)$75,000$150,000$116,667$20,000
Country: Kenya
PB: 2:19:50
At age 37, she went 1st Boston – 2nd Worlds – 4th NYC in ’17
Buzunesh Deba$20,000$30,000$23,333$15,000
Country: Ethiopia
PB: 2:19:59
CR holder but it’s been 3 years since she’s been in the mix in a major

Jordan Hasay$50,000$125,000$91,667$35,000
Country: USA
PB: 2:20:57
After an incredible first 2 marathons, can she earn first win in Boston?
Shalane Flanagan$150,000$250,000$200,000$50,000
Country: USA
PB: 2:21:14
Won NYC last fall at age 36; Boston would be icing on the cake
Mamitu Daska$40,000$50,000$45,000$10,000
Country: Ethiopia
PB: 2:21:59
3rd in NYC last year behind Flanagan & Keitany
Des Linden$30,000$100,000$68,333$20,000
Country: USA
PB: 2:22:38
Three top-4 finishes in Boston, including last year
Des Linden (2019)$125,000$200,000$158,333$50,000
Enters as defending champ
Madai Perez$10,000$25,000$20,000$5,000
Country: Mexico
PB: 2:22:59

4th in Chicago last year
Caroline Rotich$20,000$25,000$21,667$5,000
Country: Kenya
PB: 2:23:22
Has struggled since winning ’15 Boston but did run 2:26 at ’17 Amsterdam
Gladys Chesir$15,000$20,000$18,333$5,000
Country: Kenya
PB: 2:24:51
If you’re looking for a dark horse, it’s her. 2nd at ’17 Amsterdam in her debut
Serena Burla$10,000$30,000$16,667$5,000
Country: USA
PB: 2:26:53
Ran PR last year in Osaka, then finished 11th at Worlds
Molly Huddle$40,000$100,000$80,000$25,000
Country: USA
PB: 2:28:13
Set US HM record in Jan; 3rd at ’16 NYC in only marathon
Krista DuChene0$5,000$1,667$2,000
Country: Canada
PB: 2:28:32
Hasn’t broken 2:30 since ’15
Kellyn Taylor$5,000$15,000$10,000$5,000
Country: USA
PB: 2:28:40
8th in NYC last year
Kellys Arias0$5,000$3,333$1,500
Country: Colombia
PB: 2:29:36
7th in Valencia last year
Jessica Draskau Petersson0$5,000$3,333$1,000
Country: Denmark
PB: 2:30:07
14th in Chicago last year


boston_women_appearance

Notes

  • The agents’ average guess for Shalane Flanagan‘s 2018 Boston appearance fee (coming off a win in NYC) was significantly higher than their average guess for Des Linden‘s 2019 Boston appearance fee (she is the reigning champ, assuming she runs).

Discuss this article in our forums: The wait is over: 2018 Pro Runners Salary Data Revealed: How Much Do the Pros Make? 


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