Where is our sport going? by Larry Eder

Powell_AsafaT-USOpen12.JPGAsafa Powell, 2012 US Open, photo by PhotoRun.net

So, this started as the beginning of Elliott Denman's piece on the U.S. Open, then I decided to rewrite and try and be more inclusive. I saw some good things at the US Open, and liked that Budweiser came in as a sponsor at end. I will be at NB, USA Indoor, World Indoor, and a few other events (Brooks PR invitational), writing about our sport and observing. Here are my observations so far, and my invitation for others to write about the sport that we all love, and want to see flourish.
There seems to be a bit of a turf war in the Big Apple. This was first in road running, as several groups have tried to bring major races to New York without the support of the NYRR. So far, these groups have been unsuccessful.  They always underestimate the NYRR and Mary Wittenberg. Not really a good thing.

New York is not only a global media hub, but also, a tremendous center for running. From road running, but indoor track & field, cross country, many great high schoolers and college runners come out of the New York Metro area.

My first taste of the indoor circuit was in 1986 was going to New York, to see the Meadowlands and Millrose Games and running road races in the park the very next day.  In between the indoor meet and the road racing, we viewed New York. It was a great way to enjoy the city.

Campbell_Veronica-USOpen12.JPG Veronica Campbell-Brown, 2012 US Open, photo by PhotoRun.net

 The positive sanctuary for indoor track in New York City is the Armory NB Track & Field Center, which puts on over 70 events a year, for high school and college. The Armory announced that they would host  the Millrose Games in the said Armory. The revitalized Millrose Games will happen February 11, 2012, will have a sold out crowd of about 4,500 and some amazing fields. While not on a major cable network, the meet will be shown in digital fashion, live on You Tube.

Brenda Martinez won NB Mile and now US Open Mile, photo by PhotoRun.net

On the same day as the Millrose Games, the USA Track & Field Invitational, formerly the Tyson Invite, will become part of the VISA Indoor Series, on February 11, with TV. USATF's acting CEO, Mike McNees said that with all of the great fields at Fayetteville, it was a no brainer to make the meet part of the series, after seeing the fields developed by the University of Arkansas and Nike.

Also on the same day is the US Club Cross Country Championships, held in St. Louis, Missouri.  (A thirty minute weekly TV program, digital and terrestrial, could cover highlights of the track meets, cross country meets and road races that are in our country, could cover our sport. I actually pitched such a concept in 1993. Put that on ESPN2, weekly, with highlights, and it could draw a nice audience).

Whiting_RyanWide-USOpen12.JPGRyan Whiting, 2012 US Open, photo by PhotoRun.net 

RBR hopes that this unfortunate date issue (Tyson, for the record was on Feb 11 for the past decade), will be rectified next season. The sport needs four strong elite indoor meets, on four separate dates, so the fans and athletes can get further benefit. We love that there are four great track meets this year, but we know that it is impossible to hit both Millrose and USATF, (or we would have tried it). 

The adidas New York Grand Prix is a case in point. Global Athletics & Marketing worked with the key players (USATF, their sponsors, NYRR), in the Big Apple to make an event work for all.The meet, the city and the sport have benefited from the event. The meet grew, and evolved because management, sponsors and athletes (managers too), invested in the future of the event.

Come on, look at Nike Pre as another example. Tom Jordan kept that meet alive in the nineties, and Nike increased their support in the late 90s, and with the stacked events, TV and crowd, that event is the litmus test for North American athletics events. 

The US Open was well run, and had some great moments, and the next day, the TV was one of the best we have had on TV ! It also had the best press attendance of an indoor meeting in NYC in years. That is a big deal, as much of the press has laid low. Asafa Powell & Veronica Campbell-Brown were huge draws. LoLo Jones on the cover of Outside in February (on Spikes in 2010 & 2011), puts track athletes in front of the generic sports fan. 

At RBR and RunningNetwork, we would love to work with USA Track & Field to build up attendance at their events. For example, promoting ticket sales on the US Open months, ahead of time is the way other sports do things.
It is the way the US Open needs to investigate in 2013.

Working together for the common good. Thinking out of their local area and perhaps, six months out from an event. Knowing that sponsors, media, clubs, all have a part of the success in the sport. Then, and only then, will our sport achieve the place in the sports world that it deserves.  New sponsorships will become available as agencies see how our sport attracts young people, and keeps them involved.

Jones_LoloR-USOpen12.JPG LoLo Jones, 2012 US Open, photo by PhotoRun.net

Road Running is continuing to thrive in this country. Track & Field is growing well, at the high school level, and at club level. The challenges are at the elite level and also at the college level. Turf wars abound, and unless those are put to the wayside, we will be the world sport that could have been...the challenge is, how do we put this stuff together? How do we work together?

Time will tell, but 2012 will be interesting to watch...I am offering space here, in front of our 300,000 daily readers, for various members of the sport to write and discuss what they see the sport needs. We are making good steps, then we shoot ourselves in the foot, and negate those steps. Where is our sport going?

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