TRACKTOWN FREEZE OUT

So there’s this story on LetsRun.com today talking about how Dallas SportsRadio 1310/96.7 The Ticket was mocking the TrackTown Summer Series final last Friday, which they evidently ran into the night before on ESPN while channel surfing.

The Freeze, Nigel Talton

Mostly, the hosts focused on The Freeze, Nigel Talton, the sprinting groundskeeper / mascot for the Atlanta Braves who has captured baseball’s attention chasing down fans who are given a head start as they race foul pole to foul pole along the outfield warning track.  At the TrackTown Summer Series Final in New York, The Freeze raced a bunch of track fans who were given a 20-meter head start – two of the fans actually beat him.

Oh, and the Dallas sports radio guy’s mocked the whole thing quite viciously, even suggesting that the well-mocked WNBA “is laughing at these guys.”

But mocking isn’t altogether a bad thing. You know what mocking is better than? Silence, or total indifference. Like it or not, think it’s gimmicky or not, the Tracktown Summer Series has people talking in the mainstream media. It might not be the kind of talk they would prefer, but talk is talk. Continue reading

LONDON DIAMOND LEAGUE COVERAGE

Though it has always seemed to be something of a cottage industry in this sport, personally I am always loath to criticize how others may cover the sport of track and field. Having covered the sport myself for many years, I am fully aware that mistakes are part of the game. But I jump to give a nod of approval when it’s deserved.

Today’s NBC coverage of the London Diamond League meet was notable for several reasons.  First, the commentary by Paul Swangard, Ato Boldon , and Josh Cox was concise and drew attention to the athletes rather than themselves.  But more than that, there was finally a technical level of proficiency that merited attention (though, as pointed out in a response below, the video feed was provided to NBC by the Diamond League organizers, to which they added the commentary of Paul, Ato, and Josh).

I have long said you could make a 44-second 400 look unusually pedestrian by shooting it with the stationary camera positioned high in the stands looking down at the track. But today there was temendous gator-mounted tracking camera footage utilized to bring the power and speed of the sport into America’s living rooms (or wherever one may have watched). Continue reading

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PROMOTING AND DIRECTING

Interest in this Friday’s Standard Charter Dubai Marathon continues to mount, though it has little to do with competition. Instead, the focus is almost entirely centered on one man, Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele, whose stated goal is to break the marathon world record set in 2014 by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya at 2:02:57.  While the marathon record is almost always the object at the annual BMW Berlin Marathon, where the last six men’s records have been run, the sport rarely finds athletes willing to boldly predict their intentions with a gaudy Trump-like flourish. Not sure if it’s chicken or egg, whether the unpredictability of the marathon itself, or the nature of the men and women who ply their trade in that game tend to deliver an endless series of “Only God knows” answers to “how do you think you’ll do?” questions.  (Maybe it’s just bad questions, too). 

In any case, building fan interest under such circumstances has become increasingly difficult in a more crowded sports landscape that features more and more charismatic characters with Facebook Live accounts, tattoo tapestries, and multi-million dollar prize purses.  When the top first prize in marathoning is Dubai’s $200,000, it doesn’t break through as having relative importance in the greater realm of pro sports.  And if you don’t have  an Olympic gold medal or a World Championship on the line, what else do you have to generate interest other than money?

But fan interest, like the stock market, is an iffy proposition. Hard to read. Hard to presume or presage.  Yet there are some who are better than others at gauging what might pique the public interest. 

Promotion Game

Promotion Game

“We like making fights people are interested in,” UFC president Dana White told Colin Cowherd on his Friday Jan. 13 show in response to the public interest in a possible Floyd Mayweather v Conor McGregor match between the undefeated boxer and the current mixed marshal arts fan fave. “We like putting on entertainment events, whatever.  As long as the people who buy the pay-per-view or bought the tickets are excited with what happened that night, how do you lose?”

That’s the attitude a showman has, the desire to please the paying customer. The question I have is where are those characters in the running game?  Because there is a big difference between a meet director and a meet promoter.  Continue reading

VIN LANANNA ELECTED USATF PREZ. DOES IT REALLY MATTER?

Today, in Orlando, Florida Coach Vin Lananna was elected president of USATF, the governing body of athletics in the USA, when the other candidate for the office, three-time Olympic champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee of East St. Louis, Illinois, withdrew her candidacy.  Both were among the finest candidates for the office the organization has ever had.  Both had risen to the top in their respective fields, she in athletics, he in coaching. Both are honorable people, and both have a deep and abiding love for the sport. Yet, even as the USATF family met in Orlando for its annual meeting to vote on a new leader, the question should at least be asked, is this election simply a myopic whistling past the graveyard given all the deeply cynical drug and corruption charges coming out of so many other brother and sister federations in sport worldwide?

The question of existential relevance is hardly inappropriate. Today, former Chicago Tribune writer Phil Hersh suggested a similar notion: Rot at the Core Threatens Future of Olympics.  And with the release of yet another damning investigative film by Germany’s ARD TV in conjunction with French newspaper Le Monde, Doping – Top Secret: The Protection Racket that uncovered corruption at the very highest levels of governance of the sport, it seems that for many in positions of authority the corridors of power are only greased avenues for bribery and extortion schemes. How can simply replacing the head person at USATF or even in IAAF home office really matter anymore?

There are 200+ federations that make up the IAAF. These are political fiefdoms that are run by fiat, and exist with all but no oversight, nationally or internationally.  If Washington, Jefferson, or Adams were around and involved in this sport, one might assume a Declaration of some sort might well be in preparation.  And it isn’t even that people believe in the system.  Instead they have absorbed it and learned to use it to their best interests.  I have no doubt that Jackie and Vin have the best interest of the sport as their animating mission. But that makes them the outlier in this international cabal, if inquiry and evidence be any judge. Continue reading

HEALING BEGINS

World Indoor Champs logo 2016Last week’s IAAF World Indoor Championships in Portland, Oregon has been praised for its innovations in track & field presentation, things like NBA-style player introductions, music during competitions, and medal ceremonies in Portland’s Courthouse Square.  And while there were many performances to laud and races that stretched emotions taut, it must also be noted that there was an uneven quality to a meet billed as a “World Championships”.

Though 148 nations sent at least one representative to Portland — up from the 135 in Sopot, Poland in 2014, but down from the 168 in Istanbul, Turkey in 2012 — there was a shortage of top-flight fields in many events. One reason may well be the specter of the Rio Games this summer. Continue reading

USATF ANNOUNCES FORMER BOARD MEMBER AS NEW CEO

Max Siegel, new USATF CEO

In a move that comes as no surprise, USA Track & Field announced today that its board of directors has selected 47 year-old Indianapolis native Max Siegel, a marketing executive with ties to the sports and music industries – and former USATF board member  – to serve as its new CEO.  USATF has been operating without a full-time CEO since the board dismissed Doug Logan in September 2010 after a rocky two years at the helm.  Chief Operating Officer Mike McNees had been serving as interim CEO.

Mr. Siegel becomes the fourth chief executive in the organization’s history following Ollan Cassell (1980-1996), Craig Masback (1997-2008), and Doug Logan (2008-2010). He will assume his duties on May 1st under a two-year contract reportedly valued at $500,000 per year with performance bonuses.

Since USATF announced last month that it intended to hire a new CEO before the June track & field trials in Eugene, Oregon – thus ending a protracted 16-month interregnum – many long-time observers of the sport surmised the selection would come from within the USATF family. And since Mr. Siegel had been a USATF board member (2009-2011) whose firm was hired last October to oversee the USATF marketing effort going into the summer Olympics, he was widely expected to be named to the CEO position. Continue reading

EUGENE OUR PARALLEL UNIVERSE

     Eugene, Oregon is a secluded, untroubled place.  Home of the University of Oregon, last week this college town two hours south of Portland hosted the 2011 USATF Outdoor Track & Field Championships at historic Hayward Field. With its vast student population having migrated, the town settled back into its quiet summer slumber, its trees arcing beneath the weight of their season’s green dress, the air warm and radiant, even though ambient with pollen.  If you didn’t check the Weather Channel for the rest of the year, you’d think you died and gone to heaven, so accommodating was the university, the town, and the climate to the sport of track and field.  For the 40,000+ track fans who flew in, drove to, then strolled through the turnstiles under warm, mostly sunny conditions, it was like walking into some track and field inspired Field of Dreams.

But Tracktown USA, as it’s been dubbed, might just as well be our version of Potterville to George Bailey’s Bedford Falls in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, an alternate reality where the characters are generally the same, but their personalities and likes have fundamentally changed.  For in the wake of the 2008 Olympic Trials, last week’s four-day USATF Nationals, and in preparation for next summer’s Olympic Trials, we have seen what might have been had track and field managed to join other American sports and escape its restricting, cradle-to-grave amateur past and evolve into a, if not untainted, at least decidedly less insular professional future. Continue reading