Running USA continues to thrive, where does it go now?


The Running USA meeting was a meeting place for major race directors, new race directors, sponsors from both traditional and non-traditional sponsors. The highlight of the day was the Monday night Dinner and Auction.....On Tuesday, the highlight was a panel with Tom Raynor of Fleet Feet, Richie Woodworth of Saucony, Andy Hersham of the Runners' World Media Group and a talk by Peter Engelheart of Falconhead Capital, recent purchaser of Elite Racing, Competitor Group, and Velo News

The Running USA has become an event that the major players in the sport, be they sponsors, supporters, race directors, running store owners, media. At this time, the event has had three days of good quality breakout meetings. For the event to grow, they will need to be much more specific and will need to have several sections-for sponsors, media, race directors, fitness directors, store owners.

I spent most of my three days at meetings with advertisers, race directors, sponsors of the sport and observers of the sport. Here are the highlights of the Running USA three days in my mind:

Leslie Lane, Nike, Jim Weber, Brooks, and Mike Gottfriedson, Road Runner Sports produced a lively panel. Leslie spoke on the new focus of Nike running, with their events-Nike women's marathon, Nike team nationals and the Nike plus programs. Jim Weber spoke on how Brooks had refocused in 2000, and by 2007, Brooks had become the number two brand in the performance running business. Mike Gottfriedson, the founder of Road Runner Sports, who has gone from a catalog and web sales company to developing a chain of running stores.

Lane, who is part of Nike's rededication to performance running, has a true conundrum, Nike sells nearly three billion of the 6.5 billion business in global running shoes. Lane's goal, to move Nike from seventh in performance running two years ago to a top three position, looks to be a real possibility, but at Nike and in the industry, some see it as a questionable victory. New product, events owned and developed by Nike continue to amaze and enthrall consumers, but Nike seems to do its own thing, much like parallel play that children do. How does one view a $15 billion, iconic cultural force? That answer continues to evolve.

Weber has a different challenge-Brooks was purchased by Berkshire Hathaway, and due to the work of the Brooks team, lead by Jim Weber, Brooks was allowed to focus on specialty and thrive. Lesson number 568-do what one does best and stay focused. Weber would be a hero with gaining the business that Nike lost in the performance business over the past decade.

Gottfriedson is one of the most successful of the catalog footwear purveyors, has always had opinions. Gottfriedson spoke of NIke's new dedication to running, and Brooks focus on the sport. He also challenged Nike and other brands to stop selling to big boxes. Quotable, but not realistic-$5 billion sold at big boxes for running shoes under $60, and 900 million in specialty running. Companies have to be profitable.

Monday night, the auction raised $86k over last years' $49k for Running USA. Craig Masback, recently retired CEO of USATF told a wonderful story about his short, colorful road racing career. In a race in Switzerland, Masback won a sheep on the point that he
had lead the first of the three laps race. Masback later told us that they had an auction for his sheep and he sold it for $100.

On Tuesday, Tom Raynor, Richie Woodworth and Andy Hersham spoke on the need for the industry to work together. Woodworth noted how he tries to support the various industry events, but more and more, the time out of the office concerns him. Tom Raynor, always quotable, noted that most of the people here were race directors, and for this event to become an industry event, it must bring in more than just race directors and sponsors. Raynor, Woodworth and Hersham all spoke about the need for the industry to get together.

The event that they have focused on is the Running Event, in Austin, Texas, in November, produced by Formula 4 media. The idea of bringing the events under one roof could make some sense for industry matters, but there are challenges for both events coming together.

Part of what Running USA needs to look at is, as Craig Masback said in his talk on Tuesday, it to decide what it is. Masback suggested that Running USA should be an advocacy group, focused on growing the sport, championing fitness growth and finding ways to work together on various projects, taking the sport from little fiefdoms to a united front of events, clubs and stores.

Masback, without saying it, and Peter Engelheart, the FalconHead Capital principal, both were speaking of community.

Running USA should be an advocacy group for the community of running. Welcoming any group, from trail to youth to event managers, into the Running USA firmament will give the sport a focus point and something to promote to potential sponsors.

Engelheart showed a superb film on the great moments of our sports, he also spoke of the over promotion of Olympics and superiority of the individual participant and event over the professional sports events.

Overall, the theme was one of working together, finding what binds us together, not what keeps us separate, and looking at the possibilities of the future. Masback spoke of the opps with 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and the cultural ties from those events for the sport of running.

Lots to look forward to, but, as a board member said in a short conversation, we need to work on changing things and making the event more valuable to potential attendees. That will be the challenge in 2009.

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