Max Siegel, CEO of USA Track and Field, is enjoying first class travel, private jets, luxury hotels, and $1.7million in compensation—seven times what an average CEO at a similarly sized nonprofit makes—according to the Washington Post. This is all part of a “culture change” he and USATF board members implemented, according to USATF chief marking officer Jill Geer.
Unfortunately, this culture changes doesn’t extend farther than the board room, as the vast majority of “professional” track and field athletes make less than $20,000 per year from their sport, and even those that make it onto a world championship or Olympic team only pocket eight percent of USATF’s revenue.
The lengthy Post story was based on interviews with 40 current or former employees of USATF, but no direct involvement by Siegel—he reversed his initial decision to talk to reporters, and instead relied upon Geer to craft his side of the story.
Geer and USATF board chairman Steve Miller, a former Nike executive, claim Siegel’s lavish perks are necessary to retain who they say is the organization’s best deal maker ever. But Siegel has really only ever made one great big deal—a whopper with Nike for a reported $500 million that lasts through 2040 that some people see as a millstone rather than a resumé booster. And as it turns out, Siegel didn’t actually do that deal unless you count accepting a $500,000 bonus for letting two former Nike executives, friends of Miller, do the work he should’ve and collect $23.75 million in commissions, according to the Post.
To be clear, according to Jill Geer and other highly paid close friends, Siegel deserves his $1.7 million and a hot towel on the private jet because, during his four years in charge, instead of arranging business partnerships, he farmed the work out to two former Nike executives to broker a 23-year deal that is favorable to Nike, for which they will be paid in increments until 2039. The $500,000 bonus Siegel was given to not do this deal was in addition to his base $514,000 salary.
Former USATF CEO Doug Logan was fired in 2012 and replaced by Siegel, who at the time was being evicted from his luxury NYC apartment for nonpayment of rent, and under investigation by the IRS for alleged nonpayment of more than $300,000 in taxes on a private business. (Six months after the completion of the Nike deal, Siegel paid his unpaid taxes.) Logan told the Post that one of Siegel’s Nike deal makers, Adam Helfant, had approached him when he was CEO, offering to fix a deal with Nike. Logan declined, saying he “couldn’t understand why he would pay anyone else to do such work.”
[This paragraph has been corrected. The Washington Post did not claim that Siegel owned Matchbox Creative.] Siegel also owns a sports marketing company, called Max Siegel, Inc., and a NASCAR team. Financial records obtained by the Post indicate he flew to NASCAR events using USATF funds. The Siegel-owned Max Siegel, Inc. had offices next door to another sports marketing company called Matchbox Creative, that also did work for Siegel. The CEO of Matchbox Creative, Donna Gray, told the Washington Post via email that even though some employees used the email suffix @maxsiegelinc.com, “We never meant to give the impression that Matchbook was owned by Max. We had been trying to convey . . . that Matchbook was doing creative work for Max Siegel Inc.”
Siegel’s spokesperson Jill Geer confirmed USATF had never sought other bids for the work Matchbox Creative did. Lower level managers at USATF said they were fired shortly after questioning why Matchbox Creative billed USATF 200 percent over the given estimate for a marketing job.
This past February, at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, I saw a big guy, wearing shades indoors, walking about five steps behind Max Siegel. The scene, a bodyguard walking behind the CEO of a track organization, was quite silly.