HEADING BACK TO BEEF STEW?

What is it with money in this game?  While purses and contracts in every other sport have continued to grow well into seven figures, in this fish market the scale has either remained stagnant or just gone down.

For their Series XI, which began in London last weekend, the Abbott World Marathon Majors announced a drop in its top prize from half a mill to a quarter mill, while thumping a new charity component that outstrips the top athletic prize by thirty grand, $280k to $250k. Yet can you blame them?

What would you do if international diversity completely disappeared from the top end of your sport, or if half your women’s series champions turned up doped – then didn’t give the money back, so you had to pay out twice?  Not to mention all the negative PR that comes with the news. Not quite the idea you had in mind a decade ago when you began the series, then, is it?

And just today we read that the Abbott World Marathon Majors has announced a ten-year strategic partnership deal with Wanda Group in China to develop marathoning in Asia (outside Japan) and Africa with the emphasis on participation, charity fundraising, and economic impact.

“The World Marathon Majors Series was founded in 2006 to advance the sport of marathon running and to honor the world’s best male and female runners and wheelchair athletes,” read the press release. “Now, every year, more than 250,000 runners participate in the AbbottWMM races worldwide, raising nearly $150 million annually for good causes, and the Series celebrates its Six Star finishers, runners who have successfully completed all six races in the Series. Additionally, Abbott WMM is a world leader in anti-doping initiatives, financing the biggest private-funded drug testing program in sport.”

Notice the order of focus and intention. Sport is still involved, yes, but now it is last in line and focused on doping, no longer the centerpiece of the enterprise.

But that aside, why is the money in this sport still organized the way it is in the first place? Because for some odd reason we can’t shuck our amateur past where the illusion fostered was that there was no money at all, while the reality was there was no ‘visible’ money?

Did anyone know, or did organizers of the event, or the Abbott World Marathon Majors alert the media that if she won the Boston Marathon a few weeks ago that Edna Kiplagat would be in line to walk away with nearly $1 million when all the figures were added up? Not as I recall. In fact, on our local broadcast the issue of prize money was never even broached.

And did the public know that London women’s champion Mary Keitany didn’t just take home $55,000 in first prize money, or the $305,000 that the time and world record bonuses represented as reported by David Monti in Race Results Weekly?  But that she likely took in more in line of $750,000 when shoe company bonuses and her appearance fee were totaled in?

Why when every other sport in the world blares its salaries and contracts out like a bunch of feces-throwing monkeys is money in this sport looked upon so negatively or with this thin scrim of shame?  Is it because the events are all non-profits using public thoroughfares as their arenas?

I remember vividly at the 1990 Crim 10 Miler in Flint, Michigan there was prize money on the line for the first time in the amount of $60,000. Before that the same $60k had been utilized in the form of non-disclosed appearance fees. When I asked the race director why the money had always been hidden, she said it was because of the up-and-down cycle of the Buick auto plant in Flint.

“We have so many auto workers standing in unemployment lines,” she said, “that we didn’t want to be seen giving thousands of dollars away to runners.”

Really?  Yet three weeks after Crim the annual Buick Invitational PGA Golf Tournament came to Flint and easily handed out millions to guys with beer bellies who smoking cigarettes as they ambled down the fairways (pre Tiger Woods PGA)? I didn’t get it then. I don’t get it now. Maybe I do, but I’m just afraid of what I think.

*

The American mind uses financial reward to validate achievement. When you don’t award any money, or just very little money, you devalue the achievement in the public eye. And just because the champions in your sport come from developing world nations where a little goes a long way, doesn’t obviate the need to increase the public interest in the sport here.

When are people going to realize they are not giving anything to anybody? You’re placing a value on achievement at your event. You’re valuing your first position.  So if you don’t accord it proper value, how can you expect others to? In today’s world of professional sports if you’re not making $1 million for first prize in a major event you’re not taken seriously.

Why do we think there is such an emphasis placed on the charity runners?  Because that’s where the millions of dollars are!  And that is a good thing. I’ve contributed to charity runners many times for friends and family.  But just like tailgating is an important part of the American football experience, it isn’t the main purpose of the gathering. The game is.

*

When the Boston Athletic Association got dragged into the modern era in the mid-1980s it was because there were a lot of people putting pressure on them to change, from the media, to the running community, and finally, Boston Mayor Ray Flynn.  Anybody else see that kind of pressure being applied today?  There is some media, yes, but only within the industry. And the running community isn’t even aware, much less care, about the state of the sport.  That connection has long since been severed.  And name me a pol who has any jurisdiction who could apply pressure.

No, the runners, their managers, and the federations which were put in position to oversee the good health of same have no one to blame but themselves for the current state of the game.  Way to go gang, you’ve managed to at least deeply wound the goose even before it got truly golden.

END

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6 thoughts on “HEADING BACK TO BEEF STEW?

  1. Excellent post, Toni. I particularly liked what you said about what happened in Flint. You know I’m sure that last year Crim eliminated all prize money because they “determined at the beginning of the year that the race isn’t really about the Crime, it’s not about the race”; the race committee “…were worried about what it might mean for the city as a whole if we just put on the race as usual and didn’t address what’s going on.” Quotes from the race director, Andy Younger, who I interviewed for an article I wrote for Road Race Management titled: Water Crisis Prompts Organizers to Cut Elite Purse in Favor of Free Entries for Flint Residents”. The sport, in regards to professionalism, would appear to be moving backwards.

    • Tony here is the real problem facing the entire running community. baseball is the perfect example Average salaries began a sharp increase in 1976, which corresponds to the time that the benefits of free agency became available to players. i only mention that because like track and field baseball prior to 1976 didnt allow athletes to disclose their salaries. Imagine that in track and field one 400 meter runner made 750k 3 years in a row having never made a team while the 400m olympic bronze medalist at his event got 70k salary after the olympics.In order for track money to grow everything must be public.Soe companies still have clauses that prevent the information from being disclosed and athletes not realizing they are being played don disclose the information either .Your salary can only rise if you know what you are worth !

  2. Why do the sports mentioned get so much press? That’s easy – money talks. Lots and lots and lots of sponsor/ad money poured into those sports. I don’t think that’s a simplistic look. Why less prize money @ some races? Hmm….those events know you Toni – perhaps a note of inquiry? A thought. I’ve first-hand knowledge of Crim and, yeah, they are hyper-sensitive to the local economic situation. Last year they did away w/prize money and ‘gave away’ 2000 race entries to local folks instead. The ‘water crisis’ played heavily into the decision. I’ve heard the money is being restored this year but don’t see it on their website. For every race that’s cut prize money, probably a different explanation. The explanations do nothing to restore the money or placate runners but serve the organizers purposes.

  3. Excellent post, Toni.

    “Why when every other sport in the world blares its salaries and contracts out like a bunch of feces-throwing monkeys…” – That’s a keeper of a line!

    I think you’ve nailed at least one of the reasons right on the head. Everywhere else, money is celebrated, but when it comes to running, it’s practically shameful. “How do we shed that image?”, I ask, rhetorically.

  4. As I’ve said before hardly anyone cares about the leaders no how much they pay especially when it is going primarily to foreigners from Africa. In fact I think jacking up the prize money these days would be counterproductive. Crim last year showed that. It may not be a pleasant fact but that is the reality. I’ve known many Kenyan athletes over the years beginning with Simeon Kigen in Boulder 30 odd years ago. Great people all. But the public at large and sponsors in particular don’t relate to them at all.

    The Chicago Tribune here in town seems to barely cover the leaders 90% of the stories are about human interest and little about trying to run fast. And charity stories are emphasized not because of the money involved though it is good PR but because it’s the only way for those runners to get into Boston, London, Chicago….want to run Boston next year and never run in your life…here’s how!

  5. Presentation, presentation, presentation. Money follows class. The online streaming presentation of most running events is abysmally dreary – prime example being the USATF road mile championships. I paid my USATF-TV-Plus fees for low bandwidth that meant my screen showed blobs of vaguely runner-shaped items in strange motion. Long stretches of silence by an announcer who tried to fill dual roles of online and on-scene announcer. Sigh, and so on and on and on.

    If you don’t care enough to do it right, don’t expect companies to rush to pour money into your coffers. Now compare the Diamond League and any random event held at Eugene. It doesn’t take an enormous budget to get it right, as for example Plainfield North, IL high school track coach Tony Holler has proved over and over. (See “The Love Plant”: http://bit.ly/2q8zr0O.)

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