SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

Wanjiru v. Kebede, Chicago 2010

Wanjiru v. Kebede, Chicago 2010

People watch foot races for the same reasons they watch other sports: to root for the home team, see how the drama plays out (especially if the stakes are high), and to be inspired by those who do it exceedingly well.  At times, like at the 2010 Chicago Marathon, it is especially riveting when both hearts and minds become entwined in the outcome.  Caring who wins matters.

But over the last generation we have witnessed what was once a robust gathering of eagles from all parts of the globe be winnowed to a very small aerie in East Africa.  In that sense, we don’t have to wait and see who is going to win a major marathon or road race anymore, or how; we know before the starter’s horn ever sounds what will happen.  And when all (or vast majority) of the winners from the same region express the same reluctance to fill the spotlight from a marketing or media standpoint — in order to overcome the public’s inability to differentiate one from the other while helping generate sponsor interest — we see the potential end-game, as with CGI’s elimination of their entire North American elite athlete budget, reportedly $1 million U.S.

Yet in the wake of that announcement, even as the chat rooms and social media have lit up with either support for or condemnation of CGI, the only two athletes who have spoken out on the issue publicly that I’ve seen have been Josh Cox and today Ryan Vail of the U.S.  Perhaps I have missed others, but not one word has emerged from any of the world’s greatest runners, or their representatives.  Nothing.  And yet the CGI decision affects them more than anyone.  Perhaps there is a fear of speaking out, but even in that light do we wonder why CGI makes this kind of call?! Continue reading

CONVERSATION WITH NYRR PRESIDENT MARY WITTENBERG

NYRR Pres. & CEO Mary Wittenberg

NYRR Pres. & CEO Mary Wittenberg

(Since 2005 Buffalo-born Mary Wittenberg has been president and CEO of the New York Road Runners, stagers of the ING New York City Marathon and dozens of other both world-class and local events in the five boroughs.  I spoke with Mary this morning about the Competitor Group’s recent decision to eliminate its elite athlete program at its U.S. races.)

WERE YOU SURPRISED BY COMPETITOR GROUP’S (CGI) DECISION?

Initially I was surprised by the immediacy of its impact, rather than say it would begin in the year ahead.  But in group dynamics sometimes you see one person say something that someone else takes as personal, but really it’s not about them at all.  So I think this move may have more to do with CGI than with the sport itself.  What would be a more concerning indicator is if we see World Marathon Majors or major not-for-profit events drop support for pro running.  Those are the real bellwethers of the sport.

But what is clear now, and not surprising, is that Elite Racing had a core passion for the sport in Tim (Murphy), Mike (Long) and Tracy (Sundlun).  But it’s likely that what the first group (Falconhead Capital) bought from Tim was the Rock `n` Roll series, not the whole of Elite Racing.  We’ve been fortunate to have CGI keep some semblance of the sport going for as long as they did.

IS PRIVATE EQUITY COMPATIBLE WITH THE DEVELOPMENT OF SPORT?

Private equity has a piece of Major League Soccer.  They can play a role in building ventures, but ultimately they are hard-eyed business people.  And professional athletes need to have a return on investment (ROI). Continue reading