I arrived from Frankfurt on Monday night. It was Halloween. I was so beat from the flight, and the past couple months, that I unpacked and crashed.
The week starts slow, and builds up. Such is the life in the most important week in the world of marathoning in North America.
It wasn’t always this way. But, the NYRR is thriving, and is a lesson for other parts of our sport.
We live in a world fraught with constant change.
For many years, running stayed above the fray, but no longer.
After fifteen plus years of two digit growth, run specialty is in a continuing flux. This last year showed decreases for many in the 10-12 percent range, plus losses for several of the iconic brands. FinishLine announced that their attempt to run Jackrabbit as a large RSG group has failed and FinishLine is trying to sell the morphed group of stores. Lesson there: Run Specialty is about the personal service, and educated staffs. JackRabbit had problems trying to determine what it was, and FinishLine sure did not have a handle on where to take some of the finest running stories in the country.
Running is continuing to grow, but there are definite changes. Run Specialty stores, those small chains and individual stores number around 600 now. The stores that are not good businesses will, unfortunately be sold or close. Some will continue to survive, hobbling along.
Local communities have been charging for police, EMT and other municipal staffing for some years. The charges are going up around the country, and this will mean, for some smaller races, a time to end. The big race series are nearly all seeing drops in participation. Why is that? Is it a drop in charity running participation? Is it because the marathon is now off many bucket lists?
There are always exceptions to the rule. Running stores that make it have the relationships with the community. Local running magazines that make it have the relationships with the community. Running brands that continue to thrive in such environments have strong relationships with the local communities, local running stores, running media and the sport.
The easiest way to respond, for some, is to put their head under the sand. Brands that have done that begin to cut back, first on advertising and marketing, then staffing, then local support, and they wonder where their business went.
An amazing case in point on how to grow in times of change is the New York Road Runners Club. After having nearly every major brand make a bid on their race, they signed a ten year deal with New Balance that is much, much more than the traditional race sponsorship. NB is supporting the NYC Marathon, but also a program to build to a million NYC area children running, an official footwear and apparel branding program for NYC Marathon, plus a year long support program for many of the New York area’s races. Giving New Balance such branding view in the Big Apple is hugely important to the brand. New Balance has battled over the past six years to rebuild its entire line of footwear and the product is recieving kudos from those in the run specialty business as well as key observers of the business.
But how does this get accomplished? The New York Road Runner’s Club, under the thoughtful eyes of Michael Capiraso and Peter Ciaccia, has grown and prospered over the past year, when they took over from Mary Wittenberg, who left to go to Virgin Sports. Capiraso and Ciacca are men of boundless energy and enthusiasm, and their rise to the Co-Presidency of the NYRR is a tribute to the long time vision of the NYRR Club and George Hirsch, the Chairman of the board. Capiraso and Ciaccia came from within the organization, and their insider knowledge, plus their genuine management abilities allow them to present a professional, thoughtful approach to managing a thriving club with many sponsors and many moving parts.
American companies, to make a grand generalization, do not take much time to develop managament succession and transition plans. The message given by NYRR when Mary Wittenberg left, was that the club was in good hands with Capiraso and Ciacciaa, and that was the right message to broadcast. In her speech while she accepted the Abebe Bikila award on Thursday, Mary Wittenberg noted how proud she was of the transition with Michael Capiraso and Peter Ciaccia.
The NYRR leadership change shows a sport growing up. The more professional segments of our sport and business become, the more doors open on the global stage.
Over the next week, I will provide a nightly column on observations on the business of the sport, and some of my thoughts on where the sport is going, and how the sport will handle the inevitable changes that are coming…