Robbie Andrews, 2009 Millrose Games, photo by PhotoRun.net
In the novel, The Alienist by Caleb Carr, Mr. Carr writes of competing fire houses all running to the same blaze in 19th century New York City. Competing fire houses would fist fight to get control of the call to put out the fire, often, with the house burning to the ground, as the battle for control of the site became more important than putting out the fire. Thank God that this is no longer the case in fire fighting, however, it does seem that way in our sport.
Take the case of the Millrose Games moving to the NB Armory in 2012. That the Millrose Games is much less than its former self is true. That no one group has had control of the meet for most of the last decade is also true-and this has resulted in smaller crowds, a huge break in the meet for sprints and a sports experience that dulls crowds and kills sponsor possibilities.
Global Athletics & Management, for example, were hired to run the meet for several years. From this writer's view, they were never given the real control needed to a)shake up the meet, b) promote it early enough for sales to increase, and the result was frustration and bad feelings on many sides.
Into this conundrum comes Dr. Norb Sander, NYC marathon winner, and a devoted track geek. Due to Norb's tenacity, eccentricity, drive and love of the sport (and all of the others involved in the Armory), the NB NYC Armory is a reality and not a dream.
That the NB Armory has saved indoor track in the Big Apple is a fact. That 80,000 athletes have benefited from the 100 plus indoor meets at the Armory is also a fact. That New Balance Prez Jim Davis speaks with his money, doing a great thing in New York is also true-I love the facility! New Balance has, shown that they not only sell shoes in NY, that they help the sport thrive. ( And if you do not think that the footwear companies, all of them support the sport more than anyone else, just look at your local road race or track meet, from adidas NB, from Nike to Zoot, footwear companies are our sports' biggest supporters.)
Here is my issue: The Armory is not MSG! The tradition is at Madison Square Gardens. That the owners of MSG have totally negated any chance of the meet management making money is nearly a fact. They keep all of the revenue from food sales. Tickets sales are not promoted, except by word of mouth. That meet management was paying six figures just to use the Wanamaker name for the mile is also true. Poor ticket sales have made it hard for meet management to make money and, even with the support of agents, managers, athletes and the checkbook of USA Track & Field (they kept this meeting going), the Millrose has been slowly dying.
The compromised nature of the management of the meet also kills it! High school, college and univ athletes, families and alum used to come, but now, many don't even know it continues to go on. Most importantly, the meet is way too long. The break for the sprints is insane, and either they needed to be moved early on or cancelled. In my mind, putting on track meets requires an enlightened dictatorship, democracy be damned here!
The Millrose Games should be the showcase of the sport, but, alas, it has been run into the ground. Frustration abounds, as good people disagree, but with no constructive way to bring warring sides together, the meet and the dreams of another generation of track fans and athletes will be sacrificed.
I like Dr. Norb Sander's tenacity and yes, eccentricity. He is a good egg, as we would call him in St. Louis (my hometown). And, if the NB NYC Armory hosts the Millrose Games, it will be a fine meet. However, it just will not be the Millrose Games in Madison Square Gardens.
I have two suggestions: The first, a compromise: Millrose College, HS and Youth at NB Armory. MSG then hosts a two and one half hours of elite indoor track, plus HS 4 x400m, HS 4 x 800, and that is it. Sell the tickets as fundraisers for NY high school sports and make it the real showcase of the indoor season. Have one management team, get everyone else out who has different agendas, and make this meet work.
The second suggestion: Let Norb have the Millrose and set up a new meet. Get someone who can negotiate a contract and show MSG that making some money is better than making no money and the negatives that they will receive when the word gets out how they contributed to the death of the hallowed Millrose Games.
Start the New York Indoor Games, run it as an elite meet, start with high and college 4 x 400 and end with hs and college 4 x 800.
This is the conundrum with our sport. 50 high school state meets outdoors bring over 500,000 fans, paying to track meets across the nation. Elite track, with few exceptions is done with no business model at all! The few exceptions: Nike Pre, adidas GP, NB Indoor Grand Prix are the major exceptions.
While I find it highly unlikely that there can be either a compromise or a change, I sure hope that the powers that be come to their senses.