Thursday night, the Wall Street Journal reported that Nike had dropped their lawsuit against Boris Berian. As you’ll recall, Nike was suing over an alleged breach of his contract with the company. Berian’s contract with Nike expired in January and he received a 3 year/$375,000 offer from New Balance that Nike claimed they matched. If that was true, Berian would have been obligated to remain under Nike sponsorship, but the matching offer included reductions. Berian’s camp claimed that New Balance’s offer did not include any reductions and, therefore, the Nike offer did not constitute a match. Nike claimed that New Balance’s offer must have had reductions because, they say, every running contract has reductions of some kind.
Berian’s agent Merhawi Keflezighi communicated to LetsRun that Nike dropping the suit did not indicate that the two sides had reached any sort of agreement. Since Nike was currently in a discovery period, the implication is clearly that their discovery found that New Balance’s contract was free of reductions, as Berian claimed all along.
With the lawsuit dropped, Berian is now a free agent, as it were, and is free to sign with any sponsor he chooses. It’s likely, of course, that he will sign with New Balance, whose offer started this whole mess to begin with.
Regardless of where he signs, the most important practical result of this news is that Berian will be free to compete in the next month’s Olympic Trials in Eugene. Nike had asked for and won a request to suspend Berian from competition until this case was resolved. Now the case is resolved, so Berian can compete wherever he wants for whomever he wants.
Overall this is not only a big win for Berian, but for professional runners more broadly. Reductions are no longer an unspoken fact of life. New Balance has proven that terms that reduce the guaranteed value of a contract for poor performance are not standard operating procedure. Beyond simply raising awareness of the sort of exploitation that seems to permeate the sport, athletes can and should feel more confident negotiating reductions out of their contracts going forward.
It’s a win for Berian, a win for track fans who’ll get to watch him compete in Eugene, and a win for his fellow athletes, who have gained at least a little negotiating leverage out of the publicity of this dispute. The only loser here is Nike, and, really, that’s perfectly ok.