Which Shoe Company Will Sign Parker Valby?

Parker Valby

This year, the top prize in NCAA distance running is Parker Valby. He is a student at the University of Florida. Shoe brands are highly interested in him.

Valby, at 21, has shown outstanding performance in college competitions this past year. She amassed four national titles by significant leads and broke two college records. She twice broke the NCAA 5,000-meter record in the indoor season, a record unbroken for 15 years.

In her debut at the 10,000 meter distance in April, she set a new collegiate record with 30:50.43. This achievement placed her 11th on the U.S. all-time list.

She is preparing to run the 5,000 and 10,000 meters at the NCAA outdoor championships. The women's contest starts on June 6. The venue is Hayward Field, located in Eugene, Oregon.

In June 2023, Valby entered into a name-image-likeness (NIL) agreement with Nike. NIL contracts conclude when an athlete leaves college and turns professional. So far, NCAA distance runners typically sign professional shoe deals with the same company they had an NIL contract with.

Katelyn Tuohy, from North Carolina State University, was the first collegiate distance runner to sign a significant NIL deal with Adidas. When she went pro last fall, she continued partnering with Adidas. Charles Hicks, a Stanford student, signed an NIL contract with Nike. He later became part of Nike’s Bowerman Track Club.

Valby might deviate from this pattern, according to ShoesClub. Big brands, like Puma and New Balance, with substantial funds, are actively seeking her. However, it's not certain if other firms - such as Adidas, Asics, Brooks, On, and Under Armour - are making serious steps to secure her too.

Valby is expected to earn a base annual payment between $650,000 and $800,000. While agent Tom Ratcliffe handled Valby’s NIL deal, her father, Kyle Valby, is allegedly managing her pro contract. Running agents usually charge 15 percent of an athlete's sponsorship and prize earnings. Lower fees are sometimes arranged.

Parker Valby

Each year, there's a complex recruitment process between college athletes and shoe companies. It's similar to how college coaches recruit high school athletes. Currently, with around nine companies engaged in distance running and seeking college athletes for marketing, it's an optimal time for graduating athletes to secure profitable deals.

Brand representatives contact college coaches. They organize Zoom meetings with athletes. They also invite these athletes to meet their training groups.

Ben Rosario is the executive director of the Hoka-sponsored NAZ Elite team in Flagstaff, Arizona. He spoke to ShoesClub about his group's recruiting methods. They invite athletes for a two-day visit. This visit includes watching a workout and going for a run. Athletes also join a meal at a restaurant or a cookout, often at Stephanie and Ben Bruce's home.

Recruiting visits happen nationwide. They can start the summer prior to an athlete's final year. The process can continue up until weeks before the NCAA outdoor championships.

NIL, according to Rosario, is a strategy. Brands use it to get ahead in signing college talents.

“Trying to get in so early, when they’re freshmen and sophomores and juniors, hoping that when the NIL deal is up that they’ll go with their brand. That’s obviously what it is. Because they’re not really using their name, image, and likeness; they’re just paying them and calling it an NIL.”

- Rosario

NIL deals aim for exchange in marketing campaigns. However, few shoe companies heavily involve their NIL athletes in marketing. For instance, Tuohy, before turning professional, made only three Adidas-related posts on Instagram.

“They’re just paying them, and why is that? I think it’s because they want to get their foot in the door for what might come in the future. I think it’s in its infancy, we have to see how it plays out.”

- Rosario

Valby is a top-level recruit from the NCAA this year, along with others. Steeplechaser Olivia Markezich from Notre Dame is on the list. Markezich has an NIL deal with On.

800-meter runner Michaela Rose is from Louisiana State University. She is associated with Adidas.

Maia Ramsden of Harvard is also a high-profile recruit. She has a deal with On.

Nico Young, from Northern Arizona University, is on the list. Young is affiliated with Adidas.

Parker Valby

Several University of Washington milers are also top recruits. This includes Joe Waskom, who is with Adidas.

Valby is undoubtedly the major attraction and a bit unpredictable. Her early collegiate career was marred by injuries. So, she relies heavily on cross training and doesn't run as much as many athletes. Some industry experts see huge potential in her if she could run more, though. Yet, it's uncertain which teams would adjust to her unique training.

Nike offers two choices for distance runners: Bowerman Track Club and Union Athletics Club. However, neither is considered a perfect match for Valby. Bowerman is a one-size-fits-all program under coach Jerry Schumacher. There has been significant talent loss since the team moved from Portland to Eugene. Notably, Valby's ex-college coach, Chris Solinsky, is now coaching the group.

Pete Julian's group is the Union Athletics Club. Their focus leans more towards middle-distance. The club has Raevyn Rogers as their 800-meter Olympic medalist. They also have U.S. champion Sinclaire Johnson for the 1500 meters.

Puma boasts a expanding training group in North Carolina. This is led by Amy and Alistair Cragg. This group includes Fiona O'Keeffe, the Olympic Marathon Trials winner and 10,000-meter runner. New Balance Boston also exists, coached by Mark Coogan. It includes Olympians Elle St. Pierre and Heather MacLean, amongst others.

Some athletes are still deciding on their professional choices. They will continue this until the Olympic Trials start on June 21. Other NCAA athletes probably made decisions about their training location and brand affiliation. However, they will keep this information confidential until after their last meet. This final meet is the NCAA championships, dressed in their college uniform.

Rosario is hopeful about the future. He hopes that, after the decisions are announced, he'll have few new names on his roster. These might even include runners with NIL deals from companies other than Hoka.

“I would certainly encourage anyone who signs a temporary NIL that only lasts through the end of your college years, to use that for what it’s for. The money is great and that is wonderful, and then it’s over. And that means that the contract is completely over, and you owe that company nothing. And you move on to make your decision with a clear and open mind.”

- Rosario
Parker Valby

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