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, but that she likely took in something on the order of $500,000 when shoe company bonuses and her appearance fee were totaled in?
Why is it when every other sport in the world blares its salaries and contracts out like a bunch of feces-throwing monkeys, this sport looks at prize purses with such parsimony or with a 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 equates financial rewards with sporting 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, that 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 are valuing your first position. But if you don’t accord it a 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. Does anybody else see that kind of pressure being applied today? There are 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 the 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.