While the Boston Marathon mapped out course success right off the line in 1897 by mirroring the route that the inaugural Olympic Marathon used in 1896 to commemorate the mythological run of Greek messenger Pheidippides in 492 B.C. from Marathon to Athens, it hasn’t always been so easy for races to find their perfect routes.
It took the Los Angeles Marathon a quarter-century to design their “Stadium to Sea”course that perfectly matched the city’s postcard image of sun, surf and Hollywood. And the New York City Marathon ran four laps around Central Park for its first six years before expanding to its iconic five-borough route in 1976.
While there may be many roads to Rome, generally there is only one route in each city that will capture both its civic booster pride while bowing to the put upon non-runner citizens who must adjust to the road closures and traffic tie-ups on race day.
Yesterday, the original Rock `n` Roll Marathon in San Diego may have found its perfect layout in its 16th running, call it the “Park to Park” course, from its traditional start in Balboa Park to the new finish line outside the San Diego Padres home, Petco Park downtown.
“Originally, the Padres approached us about 15 months ago,” explained Bruce Walton, Director of Government Relations for Competitor Group. “Petco Park is a city asset, and the Padres, as part of their contract with the city, have to generate non-baseball revenue, things like soccer games, rugby, tractor pulls. So, they came to us and asked, ‘would you consider finishing downtown at Petco Park?’”
In 1998 the inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon finished downtown before moving to the Parade Deck at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot adjacent to Lindbergh Airport. Three years ago when the depot was undergoing renovation the event moved to a new finish at Sea World in Mission Bay.
That finish area, however, prompted complaints from runners due long waits for the shuttle service, and the lack of a comfortable place to relax on the concrete parking lot after their long runs.
“The parking lot at Sea World was not the best runner experience,” agreed Walton. “We wanted not only to freshen up the course, but to go through some new neighborhoods, diverse neighborhoods. And the neighborhoods embraced the race fully. We saw barbecues and block parties out there today.
“Adding to that list we wanted to change the finish line to be closer to the hotels, because one of the challenges at Sea World was the post-race shuttle program, bussing people back to the start and their hotels. Easily six-figures in savings was realized on the shuttle program alone this year, and there’s nothing like green grass at the finish.”
While the immediate post-race landscape on 13th Avenue and the adjacent city parking lot remained pavement, the Park in the Park behind center field within the Petco property is where Competitor Group staged their beer garden.
“And the opportunity to sit in the seats to watch the post-race concert is priceless as opposed to sitting on asphalt after a long race,” said Walton.
Competitor CEO Scott Dickey was standing alongside, nodding in agreement.
“The Padres have been great partners,” he added. “Since the sale of the Padres, the new ownership has embraced the idea, and judging by the happy runners all around us, it’s been a huge success.”
Attending the post-race VIP party at the Omni Club at Petco Park was former Elite Racing president Bruce Herring, whose daughter Christine ran in her first half marathon yesterday.
“We tried to get Petco for years,” Herring admitted as he greeted many old colleagues from the Elite Racing days who still worked for Competitor Group. “We always thought Petco was a natural venue. It’s where all the hotels are, the airport, restaurants. But the old ownership was very protective of the field, and wouldn’t let anybody touch it.”
As always, the key lie in the finances. As the prime tenant of Petco Park, the Padres split all revenue with the city, 70%-30% in favor of the Padres during the baseball season, then 70%-30% in favor of the city in the off-season.
“I helped negotiate that deal,” explained Herring who served as deputy city manager for San Diego before joining Elite Racing in 2005. “And we thought that split made sense. But the Padres controlled sales even in the off-season, and with them only receiving a 30% cut in that time frame, they weren’t motivated. Now the split is 75%-25% year-round for the Padres, and they are motivated to do something.”
“It’s a classic example of a public – private partnership,” said Scott Dickey at Friday’s pre-race press conference at Petco. “To finally have a finish line in downtown lets our runners walk to the start, then walk back to their hotels after the race. That allows them and their families to get a little extra sleep on race morning. Plus, this is a homecoming of sorts, because downtown is where Tim (Murphy) and Tracy (Sundlun) started the Rock `n` Roll series.”
ESPN & MLB BUY IN
I didn’t leave Petco till after twelve noon yesterday, but to show how tidy the partnership with the Padres is, there was a game scheduled last night at Petco Park between the Padres and the Toronto Blue Jays starting at 7 p.m. That kind of turnaround, going from 25,000 runners to 35,000 to 40,000 spectators would have been unheard of in the past. What’s more, not only did the Padres move their game back from the original 1 p.m start time, they had to get Major League Baseball and ESPN to go along with the idea.
“ESPN has its Sunday Night Baseball show,” explained Bruce Walton. “And no major league game can start in that Sunday Night Baseball window; I think it’s 6-9 p.m. That means all games have to be afternoon starts to protect the contractual ESPN window. But we got the Padres to go to MLB and ESPN to get the game moved into the Sunday Night Baseball window, though with a later start time of 7 p.m. pacific.”
In its infancy road racing used to approach city hall with hat in hand, promising to start early, go through lightly traveled neighborhoods, and be gone as soon as they could. “Nobody will know we are there,” was the sales pitch. But guess what, nobody knew they were there! Is that the kind of marketing goal any other sport has? Obviously not, and now neither does road racing.