Show Me the Money, Max

October 19, 2011 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Track & Field 

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 19, 2011 – Alan Abrahamson is one of the world’s most respected columnists on Olympic sports, especially in the U.S. So when he wrote on Monday that USA Track & Field “maybe getting something not just right but possibly taking an ambitious step to profoundly reshape the future direction of the sport in the United States and even worldwide,” you read on with interest.

The development was this:

USA Track & Field (USATF) has engaged the services of Indianapolis-based Max Siegel Inc. (MSI) in a broad, fully integrated service agreement that will unite USATF’s commercial ventures. The move is part of a USATF plan that streamlines its internal staff structure in marketing and communications.

MSI will work with USATF staff to integrate and vastly expand USATF’s commercial efforts in marketing, sponsorship, publicity, membership and broadcasting. The company is charged with six goals: to increase sponsor revenue and the stable of USATF’s corporate partners; enhance relationships with current USATF sponsors; manage the USATF brand; increase membership; develop and produce custom broadcast and new media content; and manage USATF’s broadcast relationships for event coverage.

For the sake of track & field in our country, I hope Abrahamson is right. But I’m from Missouri on this one – with no disrespect intended to Mr. Siegel and his team – since I also know the history of these kinds of endeavors:

February 1988: From Advertising Age, “The Athletics Congress, the Indianapolis-based governing body for U.S. track and field, plans to develop a national series of televised indoor and outdoor meets starting next year. TAC has hired Advantage International, a Washington sports-management company, to line up corporate sponsors and a TV deal for the TAC Circuit of Track & Field.”

April 2007: From a USATF news release, “Wasserman Media Group has entered into long-term exclusive partnerships with USA Gymnastics, USA Swimming and USA Track & Field to represent the trio in the marketplace for sponsorship, events and marketing opportunities, and develop digital platforms to broaden distribution and original programming.”

Both deals were with major players in the media and sponsorship markets; neither amounted to much. And well-thought-out plans along similar lines called “Atlanta and Beyond” and “Atlanta and Beyond II” were developed for USATF by Washington, D.C.-based D.M.C. in 1992 and 1993, and didn’t change the underlying weakness in the sport’s profile in this country, either.

In the meantime, the best sponsor track & field ever had in this country – Mobil – left in the 1990s after sponsoring its own indoor and outdoor circuit for many years.

I hope that Max Siegel is able to work some magic where others have failed, because the product can be appealing . . . if anyone can find it. To that end, the IAAF has missed again with the release of the 2012 Diamond League schedule. American sports fans know that they can find baseball, basketball and hockey games on almost every day of the week, with college football on Thursdays and Saturdays and pro football on Sundays and Mondays. Track fans, what day is your Diamond League meet on this week . . . if there is one:

• May 11 (Fri.): Doha
• May 19 (Sat.): Shanghai
• May 31 (Thu.): Rome
• Jun. 02 (Sat.): Eugene
• Jun. 07 (Thu.): Oslo
• Jun. 09 (Sat.): New York
• Jul. 06 (Fri.): Paris
• Jul. 13-14 (Fri.-Sat.): London
• Jul. 20 (Fri.): Monaco
• Aug. 17 (Fri.): Stockholm
• Aug. 23 (Thu.): Lausanne
• Aug. 26 (Sun.): Birmingham
• Aug. 30 (Thu.): Zurich
• Sep. 07 (Fri.): Brussels

That’s a total of 14 meets covering 15 days on four different days of the week:

• 6 on Fridays;
• 4 on Thursdays;
• 4 on Saturdays;
• 1 on a Sunday.

And, of course, there are month-long breaks for the U.S. Olympic Trials and Olympic Games. Track used to be a game of “catch me if you can.” Now, trying to enjoy the sport is more a matter of “catch me if you can find me.”

Only two of these meets are in the U.S., of course; we no longer have an indoor circuit and putting on a quality, one-day outdoor meet – I was the meet director for the 2003 and 2004 Home Depot Invitationals at The Home Depot Center in Carson, California – costs from $500,000-750,000 in cash for athletes, facility rent, promotion and advertising, officials and staff, television production and the rest..

I firmly believe that someone will crack the code someday and create a reasonably successful U.S. track circuit. Abrahamson is right to wish Siegel well; we all should. But the bottom line is, as they say, “show me the money.” Good luck, Mr. Siegel; you’re going to need it.

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USA Track & Field’s ROI on $4.4 million from the USOC

June 8, 2011 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Olympic Games, Swimming, Track & Field 

LOS ANGELES, Jun. 8, 2011 – The rightly-celebrated Alan Abrahamson, one of the most-respected journalists covering the Olympic Movement in the United States, filed a lengthy report on June 6 entitled Track and field – going nowhere fast in the United States, which included these gems:

Track and field is going nowhere fast in the United States.

It can, and must, do better — especially because USATF, track and field’s governing body, is getting $4.4 million annually in grant money from the U.S. Olympic Committee, the most any governing body is getting, and with that kind of cash comes heavy responsibility.

. . .

[W]hat, exactly, is the USOC getting in return for that $4.4 million? Relay teams that keep dropping the baton at the Olympics and world championships and — what else?

Now, Alan is a longtime friend, but while reading the column, I couldn’t help thinking of Mel Brooks as the Indian chief in the 1975 comedy classic, Blazing Saddles:

Nein, nein. Zeist est meshugah!

For those not up on their Yiddish, the translation is “No, no. This is crazy.” And so it is.

Yes, USA Track & Field underachieves when it comes to the public profile of the sport in the U.S. Yes, the governing body is still looking for a new chief executive after having fired Doug Logan just weeks after he signed a new contract. Yes, what was once a vibrant U.S. spring track season has been reduced for most professional runners to competing in the U.S. nationals in order to make it to the World Championships.

But the $4.4 million that the U.S. Olympic Committee spends on track & field does earn a return: Olympic medals.

Consider the U.S. track fortunes in the three Olympic Games following the home cooking of Atlanta in 1996:

• 2000: 19 track & field medals (10 gold): 19.6% of the U.S. total of 97.
• 2004: 25 track & field medals (8 gold): 24.3% of the U.S. total of 103.
• 2008: 23 track & field medals (7 gold): 20.9% of the U.S. total of 110.

That’s production. Consistent, and – by the way – dominant. Just look at the top of the track & field medal standings in each of those Games:

• 2000: U.S.; 19, Russia, 12; Ethiopia, 8.
• 2004: U.S., 25; Russia, 19; Ethiopia and Kenya, 7.
• 2008: U.S.; 23, Russia, 18; Kenya, 14.

If, as Abrahamson notes, track is the bellwether sport in the Games, then USA Track & Field is holding up its end, producing – somehow – the best track athletes in the world, as did its predecessors in name, The Athletics Congress (TAC) and the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). The U.S., is, has been and will be for the foreseeable future, the world’s leading track & field power, and that’s what the USOC is buying with its $4.4 million annual grant.

Not bad, really, especially for a sport with as many hang-ups as track & field in the U.S.

Although not noted in the story, the one party which should feel aggrieved is USA Swimming, which is the biggest American medal machine of all. American swimmers (not including diving, synchronized swimming or water polo) collected 33 medals in 2000, 28 in 2004 and 31 in Beijing in 2008, beating the track team each time and producing 34.0%, 27.2% and 28.2% of all American medals won.

If anything, our swimmers are under-funded, but with NBC’s $4.38 billion buy-in for the Olympic Games from 2014-2020, maybe they’ll draw even with their land-based compatriots. Anything less . . . that would be meshugah.