On 2 March 2023, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan announced changes to the 2024 PGA Tour season that look suspiciously like a riposte to the challenge coming from the second-year Saudi-backed LIV Golf Tour. Thus, more designated events with smaller fields, higher purses, and no cuts after the second round.
Interesting what competition creates.
Competition from other sports forced what was once and indisputably America’s Pastime, Major League Baseball, to introduce new rules for the 2023 season meant to speed up games and increase action. By adding a pitch clock, eliminating radical infield shifts, and reducing the distance between bases, opening day games were, on average, 32 minutes faster than in 2022. And there were 21 stolen bases compared to five on opening day in 2022.
Fans, attendance, TV ratings: the numbers don’t lie. The question is, who is paying attention?
Both professional golf and baseball took measure of their standing, and decided to try to improve their marketability while staying within the confines of the integrity of the sport as first developed.
Over the last two World Cross Country cycles, first in Aarhus, Denmark, and this year in Bathurst, Australia, organizers designed race courses with hills and bogs and challenging terrain instead of inside stadium or horse track infields or on well-groomed golf courses. True, there were still many fewer nations taking part compared to past decades, but in both Aarhus and Bathurst, the racing was compelling.
Now the question arises, despite the lack of competition from a rival tour, or in road racing, the absence of any tour whatsoever, do athletics and road running need similar examinations and perhaps even restructuring to increase their reach beyond the niche they have already carved out? Or are athletics and running permanently wedded to the presentations we currently see?
It’s not an inconsequential question.
If athletics and road running adhere to the simple Olympic motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius, what changes could one possibly make to the current presentation models to make them more appealing to a greater swath of the sporting public? Is it even possible to augment sprinting, hurdling, middle and long distance running, vaulting, leaping, and throwing beyond “you guys, line up we’ll see who comes in first”, or “you guys, throw or jump and we’ll see who goes highest or farthest?”
If how governing bodies stage and adjudicate the sport is an important consideration, how to remunerate performances is also worth examining.
Yesterday, we saw Hillary Bor take down Greg Meyer‘s 40-year-old American 10-mile record at the 50th running of the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Miler in Washington D.C., finishing in 46:11, three-seconds behind Ethiopia’s Tsegay Kidanu. The story of the race was the extra $50 grand Bor received for his record, two seconds faster than Meyer’s time from 1983.
“We funded the bonus ourselves,” said race director and event co-founder Phil Stewart. “We called it a ‘shared bonus’. If two American records had been set, each would have received $25,000. If it four records went down, $12,500 each. But we got more bang, because $50,000 sounds better than 25 or 12.5.”
Yes, Galen Rupp split 10 miles at the Row River Half-Marathon in Dorena, Ore., in October, 2020, in 45:54. The course was certified, but the paperwork for verifying that record was never completed or approved. Stewart checked with USATF officials to make sure Meyer’s 46:13 was the officially recognized record.
Great Britain’s Eilish McColgan ran yet another national record this weekend, as well, this time at the Berlin Half Marathon (65:43). Last month in San Juan Capistrano, California, Eilish, along with Alicia Monson of America, and Laura Galvan of Mexico, set national records over 10,000 meters in Sound Running’s TEN meet.
All such records have PR value. But except for Bor’s $50,000 record bonus in Washington, any financial reward for those records escaped public attention hidden within shoe company contracts that are not shared with the public, thereby eliminating general audience interest.
I remember, standing along the side of a major road race one time and a lady asked me, “what are they running for?”
To her, there were no clear stakes in play. What she was witnessing was just an academic exercise. She perceived nothing of value as being on the line, nothing she could attach as important in her viewing of the competition.
Roadrunning has prize money, often at the same level, if not lower than a generation ago. But whose task is it to tout the sport and raise the funds, much less offer bonuses for records? Is it the individual races and meets? The national federations? The world body? Some outside business entity?
In the sport of athletics, there is only the Federation model conducting competitions at the world-class level, though on the roads, individual events and at least one nominal marathon circuit control the competitive layouts.
What other interest is there that has standing that would make it worth their while to make such an investment? How would it payoff? Does running even need a reassessment?
3 thoughts on “RESPONDING TO THE TIMES”
As noted, the swelling ranks (which may have now peaked, at least temporarily) of distance runners, does not necessarily translate into more interest in the competitive side of elite distance running. If anything, there seems to be a widening chasm between the two demographics. For me, the highlight of Bor’s record setting run, was to remind me of what a beast Greg Meyer was back in the day.
Very interesting commentary, do you view the recent renaissance that running is seeing with distance races across the world seeing their number of runners swelling as an opportunity for the sport to make the reassessment that this piece seems to be putting forth?
Thanks for your question. There is a fundamental distinction between the swelling ranks of distance runners – if that is even accepted as a given – and the very particular nature of competitive racing. For most runners, actually running is more important than following the sport. I’m just wondering whether a new presentation model might be able to change that. Or is the current situation baked into the system, and running won’t ever be able to recreate the fan base of old when fewer sports were on offer. Again, thanks for contributing to the conversation.