News that the Competitor Group Inc. has slashed its North American elite athlete program to the bone has moved through the running industry like poop through a goose. Then late yesterday came word that the San Diego-based event management and media company has cancelled two of its 30 Rock `n` Roll events, one in St. Petersburg, Florida, the other in Pasadena, California, as both had underperformed in their second years of operation.
As was speculated, private equity is a close-to-the-bone business that, like a shark, can’t stop moving if it hopes to survive and prosper. Performance is king, but not in the same sense as in racing. In that regard CGI is in a different line of work than other running event managers. For them running is only the tool used in their real game, the money game, rather than an end in itself for the betterment of community and the sport. And that’s fine. For many people the RnR experience is all they are looking for.
But in all the rigmarole of the last few days, there has been angry talk on social media of boycotting CGI events, to punish them for dropping elite racing from their events. That kind of negative reaction seems counter-productive and unnecessary. People will make their own judgements independently. And say what you will about private equity, tying CGI up with Oliver Stone’s “Greed is good” motto from his movie Wall Street is too facile.
Yes, very little about capital investment originates from the heart. Instead it’s all very hard-headed and precise, numbers, numbers, numbers, now, now, now! In that sense, it is very efficient, and runners can easily appreciate efficiency.
At the same time, an athletic enterprise often does come down to heart as the head has long since offered its two cents, especially in an event like the marathon. After twenty miles the body says, “I got the point, it hurts, let’s stop”. This is when the heart takes over, and it’s what makes the accomplishment at the end so rewarding. There is perseverance involved, an overcoming. But running hasn’t been marketing that aspect of itself lately. In fact, I heard a coach lamenting about some new athletes the other day.
“I hurt, I hurt,” they kept saying before they stop and walk. They can’t push past the pain barrier. You need to train to hurt, the old ‘it hurts so good’.”
Fitness is like armor, but you have to forge it in training. In the early boom years that was a well understood concept. Today’s runners have softer expectations. They haven’t been taught to compete, either among themselves, or with themselves. Perhaps a metaphor for the country at large? You will have noticed, though, that CGI did not cancel its elite athlete programs in its European races, as competition still matters on the continent where the event fields still tilt toward predominantly male entrants.
With this as a backdrop, the time for solutions is at hand rather than extended recriminations. We have been waiting for others to do what the stakeholders of the sport have long avoided. The sport has been treading water for years, every event dancing to their own music. The New York, Chicago and Boston Marathons, though tying together with London and Berlin to form World Marathon Majors, have all been more concerned with their own backyards, rather than trying to figure out what might help the whole sport. They are the most prestigious of the road races, and with that prestige comes responsibility that extends beyond their course or geographic lines.
Competition is what we are discussing here, and for the longest time we have utilized elite athlete coordinators, rather than match-makers like in boxing where “who’s fighting who?” is the big question, not how many punches will either one of them throw. What race do you WANT to see? There needs to be an orchestration of competition. We need to stop thinking, “How fast?”, and begin to wonder, “How thrilling?” The Usain Bolt versus Mo Farah at an in-between distance is the latest such intriguing match race possibility.
This morning, USATF, the national governing body track & field as well as road racing, released details on their February-announced National Road Championship event, perhaps one small step in raising the sport’s competitive profile.
.US Championships unites weekend warriors, top elites
INDIANAPOLIS – Held in just over two months, USA Track & Field’s inaugural .US National Road Racing Championships in Alexandria, Va., provides a rare opportunity for runners of all abilities – from joggers to weekend warriors to serious racers – to compete and mingle with elite runners in a single race that supports all groups.
Announced February 13, the .US National Road Racing Championships on Nov. 17 will provide $100,000 in prize money to elite athletes who have qualified for the race by competing in USATF USA Running Circuit (USARC) (My bold, good idea to require qualification). USARC races annually provide nearly $1 million in prize money to top U.S. road racers.
Yet the race, which also serves as the national championship road race for masters runners age 40 and over, caters to both casual and recreational runners. With a field capped at 5,000 runners, the race is operated by Alexandria’s Pacers Events and provides and intimate environment that enables it to serve and celebrate all runners.
“The road-racing boom in this country has had an amazing effect on the health of millions of Americans, and has raised billions of dollars for charity,” said USATF CEO Max Siegel. “With the .US National Road Racing Championships, USATF is aggressive about providing a first-class experience for back-of-the-pack runners as well as this country’s top elite athletes. As a federation, we are committed to supporting and engaging both groups, and everyone in between.”
The .US experience for runners of all abilities includes:
• Specially designed medals for all finishers in the 12 km race, 5 km run/walk and ½ mile kids’ run
• Food and refreshments, including beer garden
• Dog-friendly Festival
• Awards stage and entertainment
• Mix and mingle with the top elite racers in the U.S.
• USATF Merchandise truck, selling limited-edition Nike gear
• $100,000 in prize money
For more information or to register for the race, visit http://www.uschampionships.us
The USATF-generated .US Championships is a welcome addition and cap to the USARC. But more needs to be done.
One of Gordon Gekko’s explanations during his “Greed is good” soliloquy in Wall Street was, “greed clarifies”. Thus, as we enter the fall road racing season, the sport knows exactly where it stands in terms of the outside investment’s view of professional road racing.
USATF has taken a small step toward accepting responsibility inherent in its mission statement, ‘to provide vision and leadership to the sport of track and field in the United States, and to promote the pursuit of excellence from youth to masters, from grassroots to the Olympic Games.’ Of course, road racing isn’t directly mentioned, which gives you some idea as to why the federation and road racing have had such a tempestuous relationship over the years. But that aside, now it is up to us who love the game and are long-standing stakeholders to take back the reigns we had handed over to outside agents, hoping somehow someone else would do what only we are dedicated to see come about.
CGI hasn’t dropped the ball with its recent announcement, only sent it back into our court. Now the question is what are we going to do with it? In future blogs I will have some suggestions of my own, but I encourage one and all who care about and love the sport to speak out about opportunities while generating ideas to move it ahead.
If not now, when? If not us, who?