Why our sport misses North America

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The World Indoor Championships in Valencia, Spain were, by any standards, a huge success. With medalists from North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Africa, the 159 countries, representing the largest indoor world championship, it must be pleasing to the IAAF. With TV coverage across the world, with the exception of the U.S.

Why was there no coverage in North America, but our friends at WCSN? How much crack are the networks in the US smoking to not cover a world championship during the buildup to Beijing? And why does the IAAF still not get that a world championship in the US is something they need to really work on? Well, dear readers, I have a few ideas on that! Read on....

So, for the past several years, I have ventured to Great Britain, to get a feel for the major indoor and outdoor meetings that FastTrack, a sports agency hired by UK athletics, manages. The meets are fascinating to me for several reasons: a) the high quality of the track meets, b) the level of sophisiication used to develop race fields, c) the level of creativity used to develop competitive events, d) the level of support of sponsors, e) the level of production value on both television and in stadium.

The IAAF and most of Europe see the US as this vast wasteland of sports, with tracks overgrown with grass, no sponsor worth their mind interested in sponsorship, little support from the best athletes in the country and a Federation that is so screwed up with infighting that, it has not clue how to take advantage of the elite athletes that seem to pop out of nowhere. Oh, and the other thing, there is only one way that these athletes pop out of the woodwork-HUGE amounts of drugs.

Now that I have gotten your attention, lets be honest. We have not done a good job of promoting our sport for most of the past fifty years in North America. The 30-40 indoor track meets across the US failed because our sport did not fit any business modeal anymore. Newspapers, sponsors were attracted by the hard work of the NBA, NFL, MLB, and MLS in some instincts.

Let's look at it this way. There are three million kids, 11-13, in junior high track and cross country, there is 1. 4 million 14-19 year olds in cross country , indoor and outdoor track, 100,000 19-24 year olds in college track. From that 4.5 million young athletes, and the 40,000 head high school, college and elite coaches come the best track and field team in the world.

Since the 1896 Olympics the best winning team in any US sports is the US track and field team. Just check with the USOC-see how many medals track athletes have won in the Olympics. Don't believe it? Just go to the USOC website.

Want to know why there are no complete sets of tickets left for the US Olympic Trials in Eugene? Well, the real fans know that they may not have $15k to go to Beijing, but the best meet in the world will be in Eugene, as 700 athletes try to make the 136 athletes who will go to Beijing.

Our largest problems in US are promoting and marketing our sport. Congrats are due to the small, but well run elite series of meets in indoor and outdoor seasons. However, US fans are taken for granted, by the federation, by sponsors, by the sport. As fans we put up with events that are a) late, b) athletes who do not show up, c) lack of promotion of meet, so that most state track meets are better attended than the few elite meets in this country.

ESPN, ESPN2 told us that track and field is one of the highest rates programming schedules on their entire programming. Why is it that we have not had the Golden League on US TV for the past few summers on ESPN? Well, part of it is squabbles between the IAAF and USATF-neither understands or appreciates the others plusses and minuses of their respective federations.

So, the last few years, Versus, the former Outdoor LIfe Network, has been running the Eurosport coverage of the Golden League highlights. Well done, well announced, that has been one of the highlights of our summers.

WCSN gave free coverage this past weekend of the World Indoor Champs, and we congratulate Claude Ruibal and his team. But the truth is, the world indoor should have been on US cable TV, no excuses.

In terms of drug testing protocal, most athletes can not afford the level of sophistication needed to beat USADA or WADA. The reason why most athletes do well in the US is because of a) we have a high level of quality in our coaching and b) we have kids with more talent in their fingers, than most European countries, and c) these kids work their butts off.

It is much easier to blame drugs for all the success a US athlete has than to consider tha the kid has done sports for 10-15 years, and has real coaching, and real facilities. One of our biggest issues is just plain jealousy because our system is complicated. And if we hide stuff so well, wny is Marion Jones sitting in a jail cell for six months and Justin Gatlin trying to fight to get his career back? Surely, the top athletes would have been protected.

The successes in the US-the rebirth of US distance running--has taken two decades of soul searching and dedicated coaches, athletes and some money. The increased quality of a small series of indoor and outdoor track meets, has been the work of a small group of managers, athletes, sports marketing groups and the federation.

When we go to Valencia, I had several people ask, " Did the US send over a real team?" That was translated as, well, your top stars are not here, so your team must suck. Well, 13 medals later, and athletes young and old did quite well. And the athletes behaved and no one made the RSS feeds on CNN, ESPN for getting in trouble.

Where we need to focus: a) get more track and cross country on TV, b) look alternative, go to PBS, the equivalent to the BBC in the US, c) find way to promote track in newspapers, perhaps a syndicated column for papers for free, d) using the Web to promote track through films, interviews, ---oh yes, that is being done bettern than most other sports!

Last weekend, a sponsor of the UK athletics meets told me how much they love the BBC coverage and how it is an easy sell to their bosses for the sponsorship. One of the largest problems, in the US and Europe is a consistent schedule for track and field, and keeping it there!

And we have no major sponsors in the IAAF from North America. The firm Dentsu
and it offices in North America do not seem to understand the culture of response
in the US. But neither has our Federation, nor many of our events in North America. Many road races in the US have succeeded with new sponsors, some very high up on the food chain. US track has not been that fortunate.


So, yes, there is great promise in Asia, Europe and North America. Just do not miss North America is all that I am saving.

For more on our sport, please click www.american-trackandfield.com

2 Comments | Leave a comment

For starters, I love the blog. You bring a great insight to track and field. The team at WCSN.com did a fab job on the webcast and Versus also provided a cable alternative for the world indoors. Couldn't agree with you more about issues of track in North America. My question is how do we begin a dialogue with in the community that leads to an improved sport?

jay from preracejitters.com

Jay, that is the next part of the equation. Watch my column!

For starters..I love the blog. you bring a brilliant insight to the sport. WCSN.com did a splendid job and Versus also broadcasted the world indoors meet. Couldn't agree with your analysis on the issues with of our sport in north america. My question is how do we start a dialogue within our community that leads to an improved product?


jay at preracejitters.com

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