I know this won’t make me real popular, but the recent decision by the Competitor Group—owner of the Rock ‘n’ Roll series of marathons and half marathons—to stop paying all appearance, travel and prize money to elite runners is completely justifiable. Naturally, the running community has been outraged by this decision, but it does make sense.
By that I mean, dollars and cents.
Just like any business enterprise, that’s what this is all about. The Competitor Group Inc., is the second private equity group to own this series of races after it was sold by Tim Murphy for $42 million to another group private investment company which then flipped it a few years later for $100 million more. And in another couple of years, CGI will sell it again.
We like to think of races as community events, but CGI’s portfolio of Rock ‘n’ Races is nothing more than inventory. CGI fills a demand with its supply of worldwide races. When the demand isn’t there (i.e, not enough runners to make it profitable), CGI simply cancel the races as was recently done with Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathons in Pasadena and St. Petersburg that both had declining numbers.
It’s all a numbers game and in the current Rock ‘n’ Roll formula of mega races that cater to the new runners/participants, elite runners don’t factor into that format.
Certainly, elite runners bring credibility to a race with fast times, but that isn’t the type of credibility Rock ‘n’ Roll is looking for. Again, like any business, the only credibility which counts is profitability. (See Pasadena and St. Petersburg.)
Competitor isn’t in the race business to develop or support African or American distance running/runners. Quite frankly, they could care less. Competitor is in the race business for no other reason than to make money. That’s what private equity firms do. Once the business is attractive enough, it is sold.
Nothing wrong with that. It’s the American way. If having fast times and elite runners added to its bottom line, Competitor would pony up.
But, as much as it hurts me to admit it, top runners have absolutely no effect on any aspect of road racing, other than the top end results. And, every penny Competitor pays (or would pay) to top runners is one less penny that goes to its bottom line.
You can even see this in our little corner of the racing community where we used to have several races that paid prize money and bonus money to top runners. Some even went to Austinites. Now, we virtually have none.
Even our marquee event—the Austin Marathon—hasn’t paid prize or time bonus money in several years. Why not? For the same basic reason Competitor won’t.
But there is a difference between Rock ‘n’ Roll and Austin. RnR doesn’t have anyone who cares. But Austin does. The difference is John Conley. Nobody loves top runners and fast times more than Conley whose business–Conley Sports–owns the marathon. He lives and breathes this stuff and is constantly dreaming up ways to bring in a couple of fast guys to break course records at such races as IBM, 3M and the Cap 10,000.
He’d love to do similarly in the marathon—his baby–but the marathon has to make enough money to keep his company afloat so he can meet his payroll and grow his business. His concern is expanding his field and maximizing his investment in the race. Anything he would pay to top runners in the marathon or half would come right off his bottom line. He can’t afford to go in that direction without a sugar daddy to foot the bill.
If Competitor wanted to, it could continue to afford elite fields. The fact that it has chosen not to is–unfortunately–the trend these days. Bucking that trend are our friends in Houston who put on the only truly major-league race in Texas. The Houston Marathon and Half (the USA Championships) offer combined prize money of more than $210,000, not including bonus money or travel expenses.
Houston prides itself on its world-class fields and its lightning fast courses without skipping a beat as it also caters to the 25,000 other runners who make these races instant sell outs. Houston is a big-ticket race in a big-ticket town. Even so, it is mostly a regional race.
The other three world-class marathons in the US—New York City, Chicago and Boston—are all international events that pay huge appearance fees, travel expenses and lavish prize and bonus money to its elite fields. All three marathons, and Houston, are among the greatest marathons in the world. The elite fields add to that luster.
But, if Boston, Chicago, New York City (and Houston) suddenly chose not to offer a penny in prize money, there’s no question in my mind that its effect on the race would be negligible. Someone would win the race in 2:14, rather than 2:08 and all four races would continue to sell out with huge backlogs of runners dying to get in.
Think about it: Do you really care who wins Boston? And can you name a Boston Marathon winner in the past five years? I can’t. Every runner wants to run Boston, but not because of the Kenyans who win every year.
With or without elite runners, there isn’t a waiting list to get into the Rock ‘n’ Roll races anymore. The Competitor Group describes itself as a “health and wellness company dedicated to promoting and enhancing an active lifestyle. Lifestyle is the key word, not sport.” The CGI president Scott Dickey went on to tell Toni Reavis that its decision not to pay appearance fees or prize money in its 50 North American events “was a clear strategic acknowledgment of investing in elements that impact all 500,000 runners at RnR events not just the 50 or so at the front of the pack.”
Years ago, Bill Rodgers said to me how unfair it was that he didn’t make half as much money in a year as Bill Rogers the golfer did (who was prominent at the same time as BR). I didn’t have have the heart to tell Boston Billy that he didn’t make half as much as Bill Rogers’ caddy did.
Life (and sports) isn’t fair. Especially when the sport we care so much about is merely just another commodity.
O Zac Ornelas, the former Vista Ridge HS runner who graduated from the University of Michigan last year, is on the US team competing this Sunday in the 29th World Mountain Running Championships in Krynica-Zdroj, Poland. Ornelas, 22, and the rest of the five American senior men will race 13.5 kilometers through the Jaworzyna Mountains on a loop trail. Jordan Chavez of Southlake, who runs for the University of Richmond, is on the junior team competing in Poland.
O Parker Stinson, who starred at Cedar Park HS, is—believe it or not—a senior at the University of Oregon this fall. A three-time All American, Stinson has flourished in Eugene and is in the top 10 on the Oregon career lists for the 5000 (13:31) and 10,000 (28:34). Stinson hasn’t raced cross-country yet this fall and probably won’t until the Bill Dellinger Invitational on October 5th. Stinson is the only Texan on the Oregon roster, although his girlfriend—Ashley Maton, a redshirt freshman from Bend—ran at Westlake HS for two years.
O The Endorphin Book Club is a new monthly book club with a unique twist. Members of the club choose and read a running book and then later discuss it. The first book the club is reading is the John Parker classic “Once A Runner.” If you pick up Parker’s book at BookPeople and mention you’re part of the club, you get 10 percent off. Simply print out something from the group page on FaceBook and take it to BookPeople. First meeting of the group is October 7th at 6:30 at WholeFoods downtown. For more info, contact Warren Brown at Rogue in Cedar Park (512/777-4467).
O The UT men’s cross-country team opened its season last Friday with a second-place finish at the Baylor Bear Twilight Meet in Waco. Will Nation was second (four seconds out of first), followed by Austin Roth in fifth with former Lockhart stud Nate Moore eighth. The UT women were third at Baylor and led by Rachel St. Martin in 16th and Katie Burford (18th). Next up is the Ricardo Romo Classic in San Antonio on September 20th.
O Since 2005, the Marathon Relay was known as the Silicon Labs Marathon Relay, but the Livestrong Foundation has taken over the September 22nd six-person (4.37 mile segments) relay and renamed it the car2go Marathon Relay. It will still start and finish on Riverside Auditorium Shores and its beneficiaries are Livestrong and the lesser known Back On My Feet. BoMF has an Austin chapter of a national group which uses running to help homeless people make changes in their lives. BoMF is actively seeking team leaders and coaches to choose running routes and lead runs and answer questions. Among the Austin runners involved with the group is Kelly Williamson, the professional triathlete. Other Austin runners on the staff include Elise Lambert, the director of communications, Paul Solis and executive director Joe Maruchella. For more info, go to austin.backonmyfeet.org.
O Luke’s Locker is expanding—again. Luke’s, which has one store in Austin, will open its 10th store in late 2014. This one will be south of White Rock Lake and will be the sixth Luke’s in the MetroPlex. Still, no word on the much rumored expansion into San Antonio.
O Austin runners have embraced the Run for the Water 10-Miler (October 27th) which raises money every year for The Gazelle Foundation to fund clean water projects in Burundi. But high-school students in Austin have gotten involved as well. Approximately 1000 Austin-area students participated in the Walk for Water (some carrying water containers) on April 27th at Burger Stadium and recently presented a check for $33,000 to The Gazelle Foundation. The students walked a 3.7-mile course which represented the distance children in developing countries must walk every day (each way) to pick up and carry drinkable water to their home. The Walk for Water was organized by A Legacy of Giving and the money raised will provide clean water for more than 1,300 Burundians.
O This might only be of interest to me, but pro golfer Nick Watney has moved to Austin, out near Spanish Oaks. Here’s the connection: Watney’s wife Amber, a UT grad, has deep Austin roots. She is the daughter of Rusty Oresti—a tour caddie—and her uncle is Omar Uresti, the touring pro from Austin. Amber and Nick will celebrate their two-year anniversary in October. No word on whether either one of them runs.
O What I’m listening to this morning: “Alison Krauss and Union Station Live”. The most beautiful voice in the world on her greatest album.
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