Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Did you know there is Professional track?

I have had the pleasure of loving track and field for as long as i can remember.  My first season of racing was when I was 6, the trophy is downstairs, says 1977.  I was chasing my dreams and fulfilling the family legacy.  All over my homes were pictures of dad and uncle running in high school and college.  This is what I was born for, it was easy and fun and I won.  More importantly I loved to race and compete.  I still do.  Win, lose or draw I love the competition.  I smile when I realize I am stressing because one of my guys lost or underperformed because it is all apart of what I do.  I was never more pleased than to learn athletes would be able to receive money and still compete at the Olympics.  That was in the 80s.
So here I sit writing you all about the amateur mindset that still dominates the internal workings and thinking of the track world.  From administration to fans we are inundated with constant criticism that is rooted in the soil of amateurism.  It has manifested itself into a self hate that fights all change and/or evolution, and an aversion to marketing in the name of purity and economics.
A friend and I had a lively exchange about the Great City Games in Manchester.  He is of the opinion that until we heal and better the pure product, we cannot afford to put on street fairs and fringe events.  For him, and those that share his opinion, it is not building the sport, promoting the on track product, and most importantly building the fan base.  he rather see these efforts put into the meets, especially in the US where we are woefully lacking pro meets that capture the public attention.  He knows we need better marketing, and feels events like this do not produce long term benefits that will specifically result in a bigger fan base and public interest.  His argument has merit and historical backing.  Yet, I find it short sighted and destructively narrow in scope.
As a shining example, the Great City Games in Manchester, England is a great marketing tool.  The city used to have the UK national championships, and occasionally host a meet but they no longer do for various reasons.  This event is staged on the streets and is promoted in conjunction with the London and Birmingham Diamond League meets to be held later this summer.  The events ranged from traditional races, such the 110m hurdles, 100 hurdles, and a straight away 200m, to rarely run distances such as 150m and a 200m hurdle race.  The athletes are always A list international stars mixed with A list domestic stars.  The fans are less than ten feet from the races.  TV coverage is comprehensive domestically, which means track is on TV with full production, not studio voice over replays 24 hours later.  YET, the old guard frown upon the street races as a side show.  Once again, shooting down another tool we can use to achieve what is a common goal, growth of track and field and its fan base.
These critics will wow you with the stories of yesteryear.  Remembering the time when dual meets sold out stadiums and cities like LA hosted 4 meets (2 indoor meets,2 outdoor meets).  The glory days of the 60s and 70s.  40+ years of remembering, that have done NOTHING to solve today's new problems of low fan turnout, poor public image, and a general malaise of the loyal fan base.
Today I read a blog from Toni Reavis ruing the current CEO search by USATF and the recent news that Stephanie Hightower may be the new CEO.  Other very good candidates have turned down the job and it seems as though Ms. Hightower wants the job.  Yet as true to the sport, we have decided to talk about the negatives and make sure that we all know why this may not work and is not the best deal we could have had.  Cynicism.
I write all of the above to say this...I am tired of the cynicism and cowardly way we go about promoting ourselves.  From drug rumors, to public face time, to internal talks about officers in the sport, to the fledgling athletes union.  We are the most tested, most busted best self policed sport in the world, but all we present is "track is the dirtiest sport".  All we present is a bunch of athletes, coaches and fans that swear before God such and such new superstar is dirty!  And if that's not good enough, such and such old super star was dirty.  No proof to support it but rumor is fact in our sport, until the accuser runs fast and wins then they are the lone shining angel in a world of devils.  Fans and media, sometimes one in the same, sit back and suspect sprinters and hurdlers while marveling at the distance runners.  Cannibalism. 
At what point will we wake up and start internalizing our concerns and presenting a sellable product to the public?  When will we move on from the 70s and realize we have today issues to address.  This is no longer about putting on a good track meet nor is it about getting the stars on the track, it is about promoting the product.  No more network presentations filled with drug stories that are years dead.  Interest pieces about the stars on the track.  Lack of personality is not an excuse for lack of exposure.
We are a great sport with educated and intelligent participants.  We are a sport, not a game.  We are self policed and have spear headed the drug war.  Through track and fields efforts the other sports have been forced to develop comprehensive testing programs and actually suspend players.  We are the sport that test the ultimate in human boundaries, no teams, no hand signals, no timeouts to regroup.  The other athletes in other games watch us and talk about us.  They seek out our athletes and our coaches to train under.  These are some of the narratives we HAVE to start promoting.  If we are serious about growth, those with voices have to do better and STOP dominating the media super highway with cynical pieces, criticisms of successful events, while ignoring the core structures and successes.
Did you know there is professional track?

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Lakeshow takes a sitdown

It is hard being from LA and listening to Lakers fans.  LA is the most optimistic place with the most pessimistic attitudes!  We lose a series and the world has ended.  Bynum is the devil!  How did this happen?
Three runs at the final and we won 2 more back to back titles, yet in the fourth year the team ran out of gas and all is terrible?  Looks like more than just the players needed a break from this roller coaster.I have little problem with the way this year ended simply because I can see what happened.  The team ran out of pixie dust.  It was a great ride and the batteries need to be recharged.  I guess it is the coach in me that can be so practical about it.  Lakers for life!

Meanwhile, the track season kicked off in dramatic fashion.  In Jamaica the sprint gods returned back to the sport.  Carmelita ran 10.86.  Yohan Blake dropped a windy 9.80.  Shelly Ann Fraser ran a windy 22.10.  Fantastic meeting.  On to Asia for most of the athletes to race in Daegu and Shanghai.

IN my own camp, Ryan left Friday to run Sunday in Kawasaki.  He won in 13.73 w -2.2.  Less than 24 hours off the plane we will take the W and move onto Daegu.  Kevin is on a plane on his way to Daegu to get his baptism in to the pro circuit in his first full pro season.  We are working to build on his indoor success.

Osama is dead.  Obama pulled the trigger.  Thank you!  Thank you President Bush for taking the steps to get after this menace to the world who randomly murdered thousands in the name of his own religion.  Thank you Obama for giving the order to end this terrible time in the world.  And I pray we all heal and move forward and stop living as partisan politicians.  We can get back to being Americans.