DODGER’S SALE POTENTIAL WINDFALL FOR LA MARATHON

     Now that the Los Angeles Dodgers sale from Frank McCourt to the Magic Johnson-Stan Kasten group has been consummated for a record $2 billion – the highest price ever paid for a sports franchise  – the fortunes of both the Dodgers and the Honda LA Marathon just took a turn for the better.

Why is the Dodger’s sale a good sign for the marathon? Well, until today they were owned by the same man, and with all the turmoil surrounding the McCourt ownership of the Dodgers over the last two years, and his concurrent divorce from wife Jamie, the marathon was put on something of a back burner.  Not unexpected considering the value of the Dodgers, the amount of the pending  divorce settlement, $131 million, and the approximate worth of the marathon, $20 million, at best.

Though the McCourt Group separated its holdings into different bins, even as recently as last November there was some interest in unloading the LA marathon at the same time as selling off the Dodgers. But after a cursory look-see by a few interested parties, McCourt pulled the marathon from the sales floor. Now with the Dodgers well-disposed and the divorce almost final, the marathon might finally become a more prominent asset for the McCourt Group.

“When all this (sale of Dodgers and the divorce) settles down, he will settle on the marathon and focus,” Howard Sunkin, senior VP of the McCourt Group told me over marathon weekend.  “What I want is when people talk about the sport (of marathoning), they will say ‘Boston, New York, Chicago and L.A.  We don’t have to be the first name on that list, but we want to be part of that conversation.”

Heady words.  And perhaps long overdue from the marathon’s perspective.  When the city of Los Angeles decided to carry the good feeling of the 1984 Olympic Games into a city-wide marathon in 1986, the expectations were high.  Just as the rise of the Chicago Marathon in the early 1980s upped the game of the New York 26-miler in the same fall time frame, running insiders saw L.A. as the West Coast counter to the Boston Marathon in the spring. Competition would be good for all concerned while raising the profile of the sport and expanding top-class marathoning to a continent’s width.

But as Boston was being resurrected from the final reluctance to professionalism by Boston Mayor Ray Flynn and then the sponsorship of John Hancock Financial Services in 1985 -`86, L.A. soon settled into an annuity and political show pony for its operators Bill Burke and Marie Patrick.  Rather than focus on becoming a world-class marathon, L.A. cruised along at a Sunday long-run pace with its annual 20,000 runners – 90% of whom drove to the event – and never attempted to sharpen its speed or elevate its stature.  While it was a godsend to the city in times of civic agony and disaster – think fire, floods, and riots – the LA Marathon was by no means in the same orbit as the other American marathon majors.

“You know that we can’t be Boston, New York, or Chicago,” Marie Patrick once told me.

“Marie, you’re not Cedar Rapids,” I replied.  “You choose not to be like Boston, New York, and Chicago.”

But with evergreen programs like LA Roadrunners and the incomparable Students Run L.A., at least the Burke-Patrick management team was a North Star you could steer by.  They paid their bills, staged the event behind a well-ordered staff led by Nick Curl, and maintained their slow, but steady pace.  Then the disaster that was Devine Racing Managment arrived in 2004 when Burke and Patrick sold operating rights to Chris Devine for a reported $15 million.  In short order, LA nearly went off the cliff with its trail of unpaid bills, and gross mismanagement. That’s when Frank McCourt came onto the scene, seizing the opportunity to buff his own civic image by taking over the faltering marathon operation in 2008.

At the time, Dodger fans saw McCourt as a Boston transplant who had failed in his attempt to purchase his hometown Red Sox, and so settled instead for the Dodgers when they became available.  Unfortunately, the mishandling of the Dodger franchise and divorce difficulties quickly overwhelmed the McCourt Group’s attention span.  The marathon, though it was put back on firm financial footing and developed the iconic Stadium-to-Sea course, never had the breathing room to leverage all that Los Angeles and a dedicated owner might bring to bear in fashioning a real red-carpet, klieg light level of a marathon.

Well, now that the Magic Man has stepped into the Dodger front office, let’s see where Mr. McCourt might take things down marathon lane come 2013.

END

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9 comments on “DODGER’S SALE POTENTIAL WINDFALL FOR LA MARATHON

  1. Legacy Lou Briones says:

    185 Legacy Runners are looking forward keeping the streak alive with LA 28! The Dodgers situation has finally taken a positive turn and that is good news to all of Los Angeles! In my personal opinion, the LA Marathon is already among the biggest and best big city marathons in the U.S.!

  2. nchs72 says:

    I recall getting a review copy of “LA Marathon: 10 Year Anniversary,” a big, coffee-table production w/ lots of glossy photos and flowing prose, and thinking, “only in L.A. would they issue a self-congratulatory “anniversary” tome. Even NYCM waited until 25 years.

    • Legacy Lou Briones says:

      That was the LA Times that published that book. I paid $10 for it; a bargain. I was glad they did especially now looking back on it all these years later. So far no one has published a 25 year book for LA and we just finished #27. Maybe we’ll get one at #30. Anybody listening?

  3. SC says:

    As Lou says, 2013 here we come!

    Lou is correct when he touts the reputation of the LA Marathon. It is a different sort of reputation, and hopefully the strengths of it will be taken advantage of in promotions and in media coverage.

    This marathon draws from a local area population of more than 12 million people. The percentage of first-time marathoners is high, and something to be proud of. This means that something on the order of a quarter million people have used LAM as their first marathon experience.

    Young and old, all colors black to white, all religions, women and men, all endeavoring to achive a great accomplishment. It truly is a community event – a real melting pot of participants – runners, volunteers, and spectators.

    Tremendous charity fundraising efforts go along with the event, and the fantastic Students Run LA (SRLA.ORG) program has given thousands of young people a new lease on life.

    All the best to all of the participants – from the management, through the volunteers, on through the spectators, and to those who show up on the Start-line.

  4. Denny Smith says:

    Thanks for a salient article Tony. Bill and Marie did what they needed to, to keep the event going, and we all appreciate the fact that 27 years later we have an event that still rocks the streets of Greater LA. Divine, well, a storm we all weathered. The new direction diverges from the old philosophy. It is evolving once again. To be world class runners, volunteers, media, charities, staff and spectators must be equal partners in achieving this goal. As a Legacy Runner – 185 of us have completed all 27 races – we have much invested and a perspective that is unique. Much has changed, much will change and we are optimistic that Mr. McCourt and his group will put LA into that conversation of elite Marathons in the USA as Tony predicts. You can count on us to be there every step of the way, only a bit slower than we used to run. Thanks and let’s get this 2013 party started!

  5. Toni Reavis says:

    Especially to all the legacy runners, congratulations for showing us all that the goal isn’t the finish but next year’s starting line. LA’s is by far the best legacy group of all the big-city marathons. I remember your 20th anniversary when I emceed a gathering in Hollywood that Bud Greenspan, the great Olympic film-maker came to and made a presentation. I think there were 250 legacies then. Fingers and toes crossed for 2013 in all regards.

  6. Dittos to all of the above comments. LA was my first marathon in 1986 and LA 27 was my most recent. Thanks to Bill Burke & the group who pioneered the event, we legacies were held in high esteem and celebrated for coming back every year. I look forward to 2013 & some of Frank’s “magic”.

    • Tarsha says:

      Seriously runners, take a look at this stseym. I’m trying it and it works. I’ve ran for nearly 32 years but didn’t do much running for about the last 7 years. When I started running again I was shocked at how much speed I had lost. For the last year I decided to pick up my mileage again. For eight months I ran 30 to 40 miles per week but my speed didn’t increase. Then I heard about the Race Rx stseym. After doing it for 5 weeks my speed is increasing. I’m running a lot less but my speed is getting a lot faster. Try the program. It is inexpensive and you’ll find the workouts enjoyable and challenging.

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