The Medium is the Message-Track & Field and the Media Revolution, 1.0

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Track & field, road running, race walking and cross country are collectively known as athletics around the world. A major sport in most of the world, athletics has not been part of the revolution in media over the past decade..or has it just been overlooked?

I do remember the day, in July of 1995, where Mike Collins, then President of the Running Network, sat me down to explain how the internet would change our publications. Collins believed that special interest sports periodicals, without websites, were sitting ducks. He felt that the window of opportunity was for about 18 months!

It was Mike, in all of his inventiveness, who founded the Running Network websites. Collins went to a sports trade organization and pushed for a grant to help develop our sites. The Sports trade group, seeing the possibilities, provided RN with a size able grant and our sites began to take shape.

For me, the first time that I knew that the web would change our lives was in Atlanta during the Games. Doug Speck and I were crazily doing updates, several times a day, on our site, and I was sending out a fledgling newsletter on the Olympics as well. The emails were small at first, but then we would get phone calls, a note or an email. People were reading it! Doug Speck was the developer of our cal track prep site for several years, and taught me alot about how much our fans were starving for information.

It was in 1996 and 1997, that I began to ask myself how our magazines should change. I began to refer readers to longer articles on the web, and to our coaching education area on the web. I could tell when our magazine would hit, as our traffic would spike drastically during the first week of the issue going out.

It was during this time, that we, and I am now speaking of the collective publishers, started getting emails from dot.com companies telling us that they were going to put us out of business and we should just give up the ghost now. My favorite, happened in the summer of 1999, just after Jeremy Solmon and Eliot Wineberg had purchased the Running Network print and web from Mike Collins.

A gentleman was starting a website that he said would revolutionize sports and suggested that we a) give up our magazines and b) we come and work for him. He felt that his millions of dollars and innovations would just destroy our business model and we should see his offer for what it was. I told Jeremy and Eliot that we had a) nothing to worry about and that b) these guys were not running businesses, they were wasting lots and lots of money. This particular gentleman went through his millions in less than a year, and his dot.com was gone.

During all of this time, our magazines continued to invest time and resources into the web. The best and most successful were and are folks like Washington Running Report, Chicago Athlete, Race Center Northwest and Runner Triathlete.

WRR is the most fascinating model, in my mind. Kathy and Rick Friedman own Capital Racing Company, which manages many races in their areas, as well as times the events. They posted results, stories, previews as well as sold race ads on the site, offering the race directors various ways to reach the runner, on the web AND IN PRINT.

Notice, the print part. Before people were speaking of multi platform, our friends at Washington, Chicago, Runner Tri and Race Center were selling ad packages, with print and web contingencies, and seeing strong growth.

The truth is, the small publisher is working harder now for the money he or she is making with their mediums, and they are expected not only to have web presense, a print presence, but also electronic newsletters.

The key is connecting with our readers, something that specialty magazine publishers have done well for decades. Someone who likes running in New England will gravitate to New England Runner for its calendars, results, and coverage of the local running scene. In their desire to enhance the relationship with their local community, they will use the print version of NER, the website, and their excellent newsletter.

These few examples should open your eyes to the opportunities that are here for athletics. The fans of track and field, and road running, are fanatical, much like baseball geeks and their understanding of ERA's. The new electronic media, the enhanced print magazines, newsletters, allow us to reach readers we never could before.

In future columns, I will show you some creative ways that some in our community have reached out to potential fans of our sport.

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