Max Siegel at the 2013 USATF Annual Meeting, by Elliott Denman

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Max Siegel, photo courtesy of USATF

Elliott Denman caught up with CEO of USATF Max Siegel on the sport, where branding is going and how USATF will look in the future. 
 
By ELLIOTT DENMAN
   INDIANAPOLIS - USA Track and Field may revel in its status as home to "The Best Track and Field Team in the World," but it's still got a heck of a lot of work to do.
   That was a point  driven home by USATF CEO Max Siegel at the national federation's Annual Meeting in its four-day run at the J.W. Marriott Hotel.

  USATF may lead the medals parade at every Olympic Games but - bottom line - it continues to trail some of its  domestic counterparts in several leading categories.
  "This is actually startling to me," said Siegel, who served in an assortment of professional positions with other sports governing bodies before he joined USATF in 2012.
    And now he's crunching numbers in the flagship Olympic sport of track and field.
     "If you look at USA Swimming, we have a lot more people who participate in our sport than they do, but they have over 366,000 members and they have $45 million in net assets in the bank," he said.
     "If you look at USA Gymnastics, they had about $12 million in net assets in the bank and 121,000 members.
   "If you look at USA Triathlon, they have over 176,000 members and $5.2 million in the bank."
    "If you look at the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, with only 29,000 members, they have $40 million in the bank."
    USATF's membership, when these stats were compiled, was about 118,000 with about $4.9 million in the bank.
    Siegel smiles at all the promise looming over the USATF horizon, but recognizes the work yet to be done.
    USATF membership nationally is up to 120,503 - but retention continues to be a huge problem.
Youth Athletics continues to be one of USATF's growth areas - but too few of them retain membership
once they've outgrown their late-teen years.  
    And there's still the huge disconnect with the distance running community.  While millions of
Americans call themselves runners, a small fraction of them call themselves USATF members. There is
no USATF membership requirement at most of the nation's biggest races - as there once was - and far too
few now see a need to join USATF.
   USATF's most recent financial report on record - dated December 31, 2012 - listed net assets of $4.98 million (but a huge jump over the $3.6 million at the end of 2011.)  Its prime revenue sources in that period were (a) sponsorships of $10.580 million; (b) US Olympic Committeee grants of  $3.107 million; (c) Events and athlete programs of $4.286 million, and (d) merchandise sales of $1.7 million.
   When the 2013 financials come in, they're expected to reveal continued progress in all categories - but
still they'll be figures dwarfed by the nation's other leading Olympic federations.
   Until the auditors complete their work, USATF did announce that "2013 By The Numbers"
computed out this way:  120,503 members; 7,574 races (and events) sanctioned by USATF;
3,384 clubs sanctioned by USATF; 2,713 coaches who received USATF coaching education;
506 athletes representing Team USA in international competitions.
   In a place of ultimate pride to USATF was this number: 282, representing the highest point total ever for any USATF team, at the World (Outdoor) Championships in Moscow (based on a 1-8 place scoring formula), along with the 25 total medals, that represented the nation's second-highest ever.
    There were 180 medals won by USA athletes at the World Masters Championships in Porto Alegre, Brazil; 39 medals won at the Pan-Am Junior Championships; 17 medals, another record, at the World Youth Championships, and 5 medals, 4 of them gold, at the World University Games.
  But, back to the comparisons.  The vision of Siegel, USATF President Stephanie Hightower, and
members of the USATF governing board, continues to be raising all USATF numbers to the point
where administrative costs of running the organization can be met, virtually, off the interest on its
money in the bank.
  The gymnasts, the swimmers, the triathletes, the skiers and snowboarders seem to have managed to
reach these exalted levels.
  "The reality," said Siegel, "while this is where we are, we have tremendous oppoortunities.
 "We will (soon) be announcing new partnerships, with an amazing brand."
   No more clues than that, but it will be a long-term deal with a multi-million-dollar corporation..
   "We have generated interest in the market place with people who want to be associated with USA Trck and Field," said Siegel.
   "As someone who has come in from other sports (much of his time was with NASCAR), I can tell you that people love to write checks when they get some benefit coming out of it.
   "So the job of USATF management becomes  looking at our governance model so we have the ability to deliver to sponsors what they need in order to spend money."
   It will be April 2014, though, before these  biggest items in the USATF game plan go public, Siegel said, urging patience while -in a sport where time is always a critical element - staying tuned for news of all these developments.
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  One of USATF's biggest steps forward in 2013 was creation of the National Road Racing Championships, the self-owned, for-profit 12K Race in Arlington, Va. Nov. 17 that was a major success from  all angles.
  Winner Aaron Braun was effusive about the event's first edition, as well as its future.  He called it a
big stepping stone for him - and others like him trying to survive as professional distance
runners - and a key step on the road to the 2016 Rio DeJaneiro Olympic Games. 
   Often, in past years, LDR devotees have felt distanced from mainstream track and field.  Indeed, there have some separatist initiatives - which failed.
  Braun's overview: "The creation of the National Road Racing Championships proves to me and the long distance running community that Max is supportive of us and invested in supporting all divisions of USATF, including athletes like me."  
  Siegel, as expected, was just as delighted in the event's success.
  Staged in partnership with Neustar  - you know, the "real-time Analytics and Data Leader,"  under the aegis of the new entity USATF LLC - the event is expected to pave the way to new USATF commercial ventures, including licensing and broadcasting and other revenue-generating projects.
  "It built a foundation for years to come," said Siegel.
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  One more big USATF plus in 2013: doubling prize money for top performers at USA National Championships events (to gold medal winners' fees of $7000), the first time for a salary advance in 13 years.
  To Siegel, and key USATF execs, so much of all this is about the "branding" process.
  In some of the bad old days of the AAU and TAC management eras, when athlete opportunities faced major limitations, the word "branding" might have referred to the marking of federation ownership.
   Fortunately, no more.
   These days, the dictionary tells us a brand is "an identifying mark or label on products, a trademark."
   The Nike brand is now fully universal.  And it's a model of a coattail that USATF - its partner - would like to hang on to. For years and years.
  Said John Capriotti, Nike's vice president of Global Running and Track and Field Marketing, "the
relationship between Nike and USATF is the best it's been in my 21 years at Nike."
   Obviously, to Max Siegel, John Capriotti and others, the mission of USATF is
quite clear - "Just Do It."

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