MONEY VALIDATES

IAAF Continental Cup logo 2014     Our friends at Letsrun.com wrote a preview of this weekend’s 2nd IAAF Continental Cup from Marrakech, Morocco comparing it favorably to the recently completed IAAF Diamond League tour.

“The prize money for the event is insane as compared to the DL meet. The Continental Cup offers $2.9 million in prize money, that’s more than 6 times what a DL event offers ($480,000) and more than three times as much what two DL events would offer. Each event pays out $73,000, plus four relays, each of which pays out $68,000, for a total of $2.9 million in prize money. All finishers are guaranteed prize money, which is allotted as follows:

$30,000 for 1st,
$15,000 for 2nd
$10,000 for 3rd
$7,000 for 4th
$5,000 for 5th
$3,000 for 6th
$2,000 for 7th
$1,000 for 8th.

That’s a HUGE increase from a Diamond League meet.”

***

Recall that at last month’s U.S. Open tennis championship in New York, Serena Williams was awarded a check of $3 million for winning her sixth U.S. Open title, and collected an additional $1 million for winning the Emirates Airline U.S. Open Series. Now consider the gulf between the payoffs in these two sports, and the ramifications that develop from it.

As one pundit put it, “Mary (Wittenberg’s) got Caroline Wozniacki (U.S. Open Tennis finalist) running the New York City Marathon. John McEnroe was talking about it during Sunday’s prime time coverage. Now that’s all they’re talking about, not Kipsang, not Mutai, not Edna Kiplagat or Mary Keitany.”

How often have we heard, “well, running isn’t golf or tennis”? As if that alone explains the differences. As if this weekend’s season-ending Fedex Cup prize of $10 million (to one golfer!) was always the way golf was conducted, or that tennis always had a multi-million dollar professional underpinning. Of course they didn’t. Golf and tennis became what they are today by the concerted efforts of many people, including pioneering athletes, event directors, and agents willing to challenge a stagnant status quo.

Tennis Career Earnings

Life-Time Prize Money Running

Men 
 $3,548,398   (52)  Haile Gebreselasie (ETH)
  1,886,000   (12)  Samuel Wanjiru Kamau (KEN)
  1,617,020   (19)  Tsegay Kebede Tadesse (ETH)
  1,600,938   (48)  Kenenisa Bekele Beyeche (ETH)
  1,491,630   (27)  Martin Lel Kiptolo (KEN)
  1,419,122   (17)  Emanuel Mutai Kipchirchir (KEN)
  1,362,381   (28)  Robert Cheruiyot Kipkoech (KEN)
  1,338,920   (26)  Geoffrey Mutai Kiprono (KEN)
  1,301,090   (52)  Paul Tergat (KEN)
  1,280,620   (85)  Khalid Khannouchi (NY/USA)
  1,080,370   (80)  Mebrahtom Keflezighi (CA/USA)
  1,007,205   (26)  Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich (KEN)
Women 
 $2,236,415   (56)  Paula Radcliffe (ENG)
  2,038,595   (31)  Irina Mikitenko (GER)
  1,795,284  (153)  Catherine Ndereba (KEN)
  1,482,336   (67)  Edna Kiplagat Ngeringwony (KEN)
  1,447,910   (90)  Lornah Kiplagat (NED)
  1,438,280   (44)  Getenesh Wami (ETH)
  1,423,015   (18)  Mary Keitany Chepkosgei (KEN)
  1,344,955   (37)  Gabriela Szabo (ROM)
  1,259,395   (67)  Birhane Adere Debela (ETH)
  1,095,581  (100)  Deena Kastor (CA/USA)
                     10
 $1,077,790   (80)  Tegla Loroupe (KEN)
  1,016,275   (59)  Joyce Chepchumba Koech (KEN)
  1,004,970  (206)  Colleen deReuck (CO/USA)
  1,004,902   (15)  Priscilla Cheptoo (KEN)
(Source:  Association of Road Race Statisticians)
Note: Numbers in parentheses represent the number of prize money awards.

***

While nascent athlete unions like Track & Field Athletes Association (TFAA) and the Professional Athletes Association of Kenya (PAAK) have cropped up in recent years, nothing substantive has yet emerged to foster change in the current system. With 18 individual event disciplines for both sexes being contested in Marrakesh, each event valued at $73,000 (along with four relays), there is a total of $2.9 million for the entire top tier of the sport.  But, at the same time, the male and female winners of this fall’s World Marathon Majors title will each receive $500,000, and the winner of one of the WMM events can easily bring home near, or in excess of that amount in combined appearance, prize and bonus money.

Wanjiru v. Kebede, Chicago 2010

Wanjiru v. Kebede, Chicago 2010

As we saw at the BofA Chicago Marathon 2010 when Kenya’s Sammy Wanjiru and Ethiopia’sTsegay Kebede battled over the final 5K in what remains the most exciting race I have ever called, having a $500,000 World Marathon Majors’ bonus on the line is a compelling point of interest. I have no idea off the top of my head what finishing time those two men ran four years ago on the streets of Chicago, but their time didn’t make a spit’s worth of difference. The Race was the thing because the stakes were so high.

Right or wrong, in the world of sport money validates. Thus to continue promoting a system where $30,000 is lionized as a big payday, while the vast majority of the money in the sport remains hidden in under-the-table appearance fees and shoe company contracts — vestigial relics of the sport’s amateur past — only guarantees that the public will never look at this sport as truly professional, while its ability to attract the very best athletes to its ranks will continue to be compromised, as well.

Only when all the money is open and visible to the public, and a single athlete is awarded a check with seven figures on it (before the decimal point) can the sport of athletics hope to compete for fan interest and loyalty.

END

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12 thoughts on “MONEY VALIDATES

  1. Yes, Toni, between 1981 and 1988….when the sport of road racing started to award “open/public” prize money and the sport transitioned from “under the table” money for the top distance runners…. under the auspices of TAC and their IAAF approved TACtrust concept as well as the ARRA Circuit events… most of us thought that we would be looking at individual paydays at major road races of at least $100,000 in the next 20-30 years…. for the non-marathons… even more for the full marathons! We also thought we’d see a major road race broadcast on network or cable TV almost weekly… just like golf and tennis tournaments ….. but here we are 30 years later… and the prize money…. and even the guaranteed “promotional/appearance fee” money has grown only incrementally for non-marathon road races…. while the marathons have upped their payouts a bit more….drawing young distance runners to throw their lot in for 26.2 miles much sooner in their careers than most of us would athletically advise. The only weekly running coverage is on the internet now. At least we can take the $$$ thru the front door now… instead of the side door…. or thru the back door! As your charts accurately point out,….we are economic “peanuts” when compared to most other “major professional sports” as you aptly point out with even the lucrative Continental Cup this weekend. Hell, I’m not sure that even 1% of the general sports population in the USA knows what the Continental Cup is… I bet they think it’s sailing… not T & F!

    • Craig,

      The big chance for the sport came and went in the 1980s when the athletes had the federations and events by the short-and-curlies, and could have dictated policy. And they did for a brief while. But when the athletes accepted the half-measure of TACTRUST, then ceded control of ARRA to the race directors, the momentum came to a grinding halt.

      It was never in the race director’s interest to “up” the money in the sport. That would just mean more work for them. Instead they put as little prize money as needed to cover the competitive base, and then focused their energies on selling more bib numbers to citizen runners, which is what mattered most to them.

      Very quickly this laissez-faire policy created a revolving door of anonymous champions, and when your generation of athletes retired the public lost interest in the game. Now, even the citizen runners don’t know or care who wins. So why should event directors care at all?

      Fred Lebow used to say “The NYC Marathon creates stars”. Perhaps that was true back in the day, but except for Meb’s improbable win in Boston this year, none of the world’s marathons makes a star of their winners anymore. Not when the public payout is low six-figures in a seven-figure world. That tennis star Caroline Wozniacki is the best known runner at this year’s NYC Marathon underlines the point.

      That said, there is no reason it needs to remain this way. But at some point a critical mass in want of change has to emerge. One just wonders if it ever will.

  2. Toni,

    Great stuff as always. My only contention is that for third world athletes, the prize money IS equivalent to other pro sports like tennis. Convert Haile’s $3.5 million USD into his home currency (and compare to the average annual income in Ethiopia, which has been reported to be a few hundred dollars per year) and you find an uber wealthy professional athlete just like tennis players and golfers and NBA, etc.

    You have witnessed first hand just how wealthy East African distance runners are of course but I always feel that articles talking about prize money in distance running never discuss the *relative* pay based on where the athlete lives.

    I’m not suggesting that the sport doesn’t need innovative leadership to create big change similar to what Deane Beman did with the PGA, but rather that there are segments that are very well paid and because of this, it creates a strange situation. Why would NYC give more in prize money when so (relatively) little money is needed to get the best marathoners to show up?

    Obviously, there are many, many great minds working on this but I just wanted to chime in as I wish prize money was required to be listed in absolute (USD) as well as relative (equivalent value) amounts. That might make some ears perk up if Sports Center learned that the winner of the NYC Marathon (lets assume a Kenyan runner because it helps make my point) earned the equivalent of ~$9 million USD (just a guess but probably not far off). I wonder why this is never discussed.

    Greg

  3. Question,at the end of the day would there be more competitive races if money was allocated differently.LESS APPERANCE $$$ LEADING TO A HIGHER PRIZE $$$$. Also would the press and public pay more attention.

  4. By paying smaller apperance fees $$$ could be used to create a larger prize structure. Would an athlete competing for a SEVEN FIGURE PRIZE bring more media and public awareness to the sport ?

  5. Toni: Could is be that the reason, 30 years after the changes that you a Craig refer to, there are no major road races shown weekly on TV and runners aren’t being paid prize purses equal to the paydays for other professional athletes is because road racing doesn’t translate to TV? Watching a televised road race, particularly a distance as long as the marathon, at least in my opinion, is boring.

    I started running in 1981, because I was inspired by watching the finish of what was then called the Detroit Free Press Marathon…I was there in person at the finish line because I had a friend running that day. That was my inspiration: the excitement in the air, the sounds, the sight of those runners doing something that at the time seemed to me to be physically impossible. I remember being moved to tears watching Greg Meyer cross the finish line, all alone, well out in front of second place. And I stood there for another two hours as the rain began to fall, and clapped and clapped my hands together as runners some of them smiling, almost skipped under the banner, while others struggled, nearly fell but somehow moved themselves forward; my hands were red and sore for hours afterwards. The next day I bought a pair of running shoes (bright blue ones from Kmart with four-inch rubber yellow soles that I seem to remember cost $19.95) and my life changed forever.

    In the next three decades plus I ran 63 marathons (including the ’88 Olympic Trials), was a sponsored athlete, won several thousand dollars in prize money (most after I became a master) and made life-long friendships in the running community that without a doubt are the most significant relationships of my life. And although I never again watched another race (because I preferred to be competing) I did watch a few marathons on TV. I remember getting together with the North Carolina Road Runners at a restaurant one Sunday morning to watch the NYC Marathon on TV, and a few years later watched Chicago in the elite athlete hospitality room at the Tulsa Run. It was fun and exciting to watch those races because of the circumstances surrounding the viewing: a group of like-minded runners hanging out together to watch, as in the case in Tulsa, competition between peers.

    However as the years went by and I stopped competing, but continued to run and worked in the industry in various jobs, I discovered that watching races on TV wasn’t all that exciting, or even interesting anymore. Having lived on the West Coast for nearly twenty years, I could record Boston, avoid my computer early in the AM and then play the race back but I found that I would often skip through much of the broadcast. Even though I have run Boston five times myself (including a 20th place female finish in ’87) I found it difficult to work up much enthusiasm watching people run and periodically pick up bottles at aid stations. I found that far too often a key moment in the race would be missed entirely (like someone who had been among the lead pack missing after a commercial break, with no explanation as to what had happened to him or her); most often the race was only worth watching in the final few miles, particularly if there was someone closing in on the leader.

    So, if I’m someone who has run and competed at what I would describe as a semi-professional level nearly half my life, who has worked in the industry in one capacity or another for nearly that long and find televised road races to be so boring that I would prefer to record them so I can skip through to the end, how is the general public/viewing audience going to perceive these events?
    Perhaps I’m alone in my feelings but lets face it: after all these years, after two or even three “running booms” over the past four decades, one would think that if televised road races were going to catch on, it would have happened by now.

    Claudia

  6. Toni

    Love the piece and the logic that underpins it.

    One aspect that further supports your theory (and is touched on in the Chicago Marathon referenced) is the life changing aspect of competing for “proper” prize money and how that changes the spectator experience.

    Talented, hard working athletes should be rewarded when they have the perform above and beyond expectations and upset the higher profile favourite. Winning a six figure prize will only further add to the drama. As a guide, just look at the personal/emotional response from Olympic and World Champiosnhips medallists…

    As it is with appearance money, the high profile athlete who has a bad day still walks away with the loot, while the journeyman or woman gets little more than a story to tell their children and grandchildren…”let me tell you about the day I beat….”

    Justin

  7. Claudia

    That may be true for the marathon. I am one of the biggest track and field fans I know, and I watch marathons the same way you do. But I’m more concerned about the popularity of track and field as a professional sport than road racing, and think hidden appearance fees and small purses are a much bigger problem with track meets. I find the Diamond League meets very entertaining to watch, but they don’t get any attention at all in the United States. Would greater prize money help? It sure couldn’t hurt. It might also help cure the problem of the best runners not facing off against each other (which is really only a problem in the men’s 100 and 200). If there weren’t appearance fees, but the winner of the Diamond League final got $500,000, perhaps we could actually watch the stars of the sport face off against each other. In Tennis, we got to watch Federer and Nadal face each other frequently, with the excitement and anticipation growing more intense each time. How many times have Bolt and Blake raced each other in the past 4 years? This year, Bolt and Gatlin did not race each other a single time. That is not how a sport gains popularity.

  8. Mike: Agree completely about T & F. But I believe, even though the first couple paragraphs of Toni’s initial posting dealt with Diamond League vs. Continental Cup prize money, that Toni and those who’ve commented so far are more concerned with televised road racing as opposed to track and field. Maybe I’m wrong? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

    Claudia

    • Claudia, the point is valid for both the marathon and T & F. With the vast majority of money hidden in appearance fees, athletes are persuaded to avoid competition which diminishes public interest (Mike M’s point). We have seen this since at least the time of Coe v. Ovett where a 1500 and a mile were run in the same meet, so Messrs. Coe and Ovett didn’t have to match up against one another. We saw the same scheduling recently when Gatlin and Powell raced separate 100m in Europe in the same meet! It is an outrageous disregard for the public.

      The lack of high stakes further erodes public interest. I used the World Marathon Majors to illustrate how focusing on a single event can elevate the prize package, while a full track meeting with 20-40 events – all presented as the equal of all others without an over-arching theme or winner — isn’t discriminating enough to appeal to a broader audience. Also, if our sport would gather all the travel expenses, room and board that is pumped into the sport, but which adds nothing to the public appeal, would be transferred to prize money, the races would be much more exciting, because the stakes would be higher.

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