His career as a runner, coach, author and journalist is unique…Now Tom Derderian adds a political wing to his CV. Last Sunday September 23rd the long-time Greater Boston Track Club coach, Boston Marathon historian, and sub-2:20 marathoner was elected new president of the USATF New England chapter. I have known Tom over 30 years, and his passion for the sport of running is as great as anyone I’ve ever met.
In response to a column I wrote last week, “YOU DIDN’T BUILD THAT”, Tom wrote the following: ”We will have no sport if we let the free market do only whatever it needs to for its own business survival instead of the survival of the sport.”
In that regard, with the presumptive sale of The Competitor Group and its vast stock of Rock `n` Roll Marathons to the owners of the Tour de France, the link between love of the game and hunger for the gain has been stretched farther than ever before.
Consider that when Tim Murphy founded Elite Racing in 1988, he did so because he loved the sport and thought he could put on races which other runners would support. First he gave us the seminal Carlsbad 5000, the race which introduced the concept of the 5K to road racing. Then his idea for the Rock `n` Roll Marathon series germinated when Tim found himself all alone slogging along Friar’s Road through the final miles of one of the old Heart of San Diego Marathons.
The event started in Coronado, and finished in Mission Valley at Qualcomm Stadium. Wouldn’t it be nice, Tim thought, to have some support out here in the middle of nowhere. And slowly the Ah-HA idea – rock bands along the course! – took form. But he wasn’t thinking as a businessman, he was thinking as a runner who identified a primary need. Only later did his runner-born ideas turn into a lucrative business. (He’s got another one cooking again.)
When Murphy sold his business to Falconhead Capital in December 2007, everyone knew how such capital investments worked. Five years is the out-marker lifespan for such capital investments, and thus when word leaked that CGI was for sale, it made all the sense in the world; 2012 was the obvious time for Falconhead to cash out and move on.
Attracting business people into running is a good thing, but their goals, understandably, are purely market driven. That’s why we need the custodians of the sport to maintain a semblance of focus on the sport’s heritage while developing its future. Yes, the next quarter’s spread sheet is important, but not more important than expanding interest in and the fan following for the actual sport itself. Tom Derderian understands this distinction. Here, then, is his view of what running needs in its oldest, and most ardent region. It’s this view which led to his election last Sunday.
“Here is my plan and the reasons for it.
I detail specifics in these plans as a starting point to be modified by advice from board members, athletes reps, and members at large. I cannot do these things alone. I mention spending money, but the sums total only about 10% of the cash that the association has in the bank.
The activity of running is booming, but the sport of running is not, and the running public does not know the difference. It is a good thing that more and more people are running for fun and fitness and that more and more event companies have joined the running industry to conduct races and that more money is raised for charities. But the needs for the business of road races are not the same as the needs for serious athletic competition. USATF is the governing body for the competitive sports of Track and Field, Road Racing, Cross-country, Trail Racing, and Race Walking as competitive sports. The competitive aspect, the sport, is becoming lost in the boom. It is the obligation of USATF to promote and regulate the quality of competition.
Track and Field
Track and Field is in the name of this organization, so track and field is something the organization must do well. In four years there will be another Olympics. We can have our own version of track and field that is to New England as the Olympics are to the world. To do this will take planning, starting at the conclusion of the annual meeting on September 23. We can have an indoor and outdoor New England (open) championship meets of similar quality and attendance to high school and college meets. We need to make the championships bigger by combining with the Maine and Connecticut associations. People assume the New England Association includes the traditional NE states but it does not. I will go sit down with these two neighboring associations and see how we can combine our championships. I will encourage all New England clubs to go to the club championships for track and field in NYC in July 2013.
We will need to appoint a meet director and meet promoter for the indoor New England and outdoor New England championship meets, immediately and set a date, and plan a budget begin planning now. Last year’s championship was anemic. We cannot wait again until the last minute and throw together a meet just to say we had one. Events were cancelled because of lack of participants. Lanes went unfilled, and in the men’s 3,000 meters only two men ran (and one was 47 years old!)
There is a pool of aging runners and others who need an easier-on-the-knees competitive event. Race walking is an area with a great potential for growth of USATF-NE membership and event sanctions. Membership and event sanctions are the source of most of the association’s income. We need a budget to support a person to “sell” race walking. Race walking can be a rich source of new members—people who never thought of themselves as athletes in the stronger, higher, faster track-and-field sense.
With the cancellation of the Mayor’s Cup this year’s XC has lost a focus. The BAA put a lot of effort into mailing entries, promoting, and advertising the meet. That brought a lot of attention to XC that will not be there this year. Numbers in the New England Championship have been falling. USATF-NE has to step in and promote XC so it does not shrink from the competition coming from fall road races. We need to make the championships bigger by combining with the Maine and Connecticut associations. I will encourage more of our clubs to go the National Cross-country championship that will be held in Lexington, KY in December.
We need to find more cross-country courses. I imagine converting every landfill into a cross-country course. It would be a “green” way to keep our sport off the streets and keep our athletes safe from marauding automobiles. This will take a plan and coordination with town and school officials in select locations to expand a cross-country season and the kinds of courses available. I will work to create the kind of cross-country Grand Prix that can attract a title sponsor. The association has the seed money to do these things.
We have a big and growing problem distinguishing our championship races from the ever-growing numbers of races being promoted by for-profit and non-profit companies. They have applied more resources in employees and money than has USATF-NE. They are gaining prominence at the expense of USATF-NE. This is not all bad. USATF-NE earns sanction money from more and more races. Running fun and fund raising are good things. But as the activity of running increases, the competitive sport is harder to find. How do you know which races are competitive? The public thinks that road races exist to raise money for charities. The companies that put on races think the races are for them to make a profit, so they need as many “customers” as possible. USATF must promote the top racers and teams. Just as people care if the Red Sox beat the Yankees, so must the running public learn to appreciate which club wins and which runners win for their clubs.
I would like to develop a hierarchy of races based on the degree USATF-NE competition. Some races need to have a declared higher competitive status to indicate their newsworthiness.
1. USATF-NE Grand Prix race series—this is the top, and we must celebrate it and promote it. Every year it is becoming more difficult to get good races to bid to be in the series because the good/big races do not need the small increase in the numbers of runners attracted to a GP race, but the small races that want bigger numbers of runners are usually not as well staffed and and offer less prize money or other amenities for serious racers. Smaller races can’t afford good prize money for clubs, a well-managed fair start, a finish area with an announcer, and a staff that produces and announces team results before everyone goes home.
USATF-NE needs a paid person to promote the GP series. The person will work with each race to supply the media with information on the clubs, coaches, and athletes who are going to each race to create excitement and value. This position is like the sports information director at colleges.
2. USATF-NE Class A races. Class A races are held almost each weekend are the ones where USATF racing is most important. But by looking at schedules few people know which races are most competitive. For example, they will offer team scores, and team prize money, and their results company will list teams. Races would not bid, but a staff member of the road race committee—someone paid a stipend— will identify these races and with the approval of the road race chairs, will contact the races to tell them they have been awarded USATF-NE Class A status—and blast that all over the social media and the association Website. This has to be done well in advance and fact checked to be sure our “seal of approval” is right and can appear on the races promotional materials. That would be free advertising for us and would identify races that may bid for the next year’s Grand Prix. This is one of many ways we enhance our brand name standing for the most competitive racing in New England much as the NFL or NBA stands for the top in football or basketball and not for every sandlot or pickup game.
3. USATF-NE Class B races. These would be races almost as good as A races and perhaps would be Class A races in the future when the Class A race becomes a Grand Prix. These designations will take legwork on the part of the stipended staffer and judgement from the road race committee chairs.
We would hire a crew to work every Grand Prix race. We will have USATF signage, a canopy, and offer our own announcer to each race with our own equipment. That way we will brand each race and can be sure that EVERY competitor knows they are in a USATF race and every spectator knows which USATF Clubs and individuals are competing. Our announcer would name the runner’s club and give listeners a good guess which clubs are the likely winners while the race is in progress. These would have to be skilled, experienced, and dependable people. This service may in time become something we could charge a fee for or use to negotiate higher prize money for our athletes.
Recruiting new members
New members mean more income for this association. At last check, there were only 2,000 adult men and 1,000 adult women. But in all of New England in all the road races, track races, cross-country and trail races, some 300,000 times people have started races. Most of them do not know USATF-NE exists or the reasons to become a member or the reasons to join a club or that there even are such things as competitive running clubs. We must sell our organization to them. We will approach this problem/opportunity like a business and determine how much money we are willing to spend to reach new people. Then we will execute a cost-effective plan. The potential is rich. In Massachusetts alone there are 100 colleges and universities most with track and XC teams. We will bring money to the association, to our member clubs, and a lifetime of good sports if we reach out to current college seniors at every major track or XC meet and tell them about our organization and about the clubs in our association. For each $30 national membership fee the association gets $15. Clubs would get dues.
The Revenue Stream
Add up all the entry fees for all the races in New England in a year. It is a big number. The long-term goal I have in mind for USATF-NE is to provide a value to many of those races in managing the competitive side of the sport. Soon enough towns and cities will resent having their streets closed for private “events” companies to make money for themselves. But if the races offer the entertainment value of a big sporting event they will have something to sell to the communities inconvenienced but the race and create sporting news. The newsworthiness can attract even more money from sponsors to the race who want their name associated with an important, newsworthy sporting event as well as a charity and a party. Money can come from sponsors rather than increases in entry fees.
We can structure a sport than can generate some income to top runners and teams on the scale of “semi-pro” ball.
Mountain and Trail Racing
Trail racing has a great future because the trails are public in the hundreds of state parks in New England. The parks exist for recreational reasons. Trail racing deserves a budget to promote how it is an exciting sport. We must celebrate our heroes of the hills.
I instigated the awards banquet for last year and will make a bigger and better one to celebrate the conclusion of 2012. We will recognize and celebrate winners our sports and those who support them. I will solicit the advice of people 40 years younger than me who know how to host a contemporary party. Because after the competition is over, it is time to party.”
We wish Tom the best of luck in implementing ideas which rightly focus on the sport of running, which is what first attracted people to its ranks so many years before.