USATF’s best leadership choice IS on its Board of Directors

LOS ANGELES, Sep. 30, 2011 – If you are wondering about what USA Track & Field is doing about its search for a chief executive, all you need to do is tune into this article in the October issue of Track & Field News. It’s by far the best coverage yet written of the USATF search saga.

At present, the word is that the USATF Board of Directors will likely not select a CEO until 2012, and that the selectee will not be a member of the USATF Board.

That decision made a lot of people happy because it quashed the long-standing rumor that current USATF President Stephanie Hightower, who was deeply involved in the firing of previous CEO Doug Logan, would take the job.

In fact, that a Board member will not become CEO is a pity, because the best candidate – by far – sits on the Board today: Steve Miller.

Miller will appreciate the compliment, but will also be annoyed that I am writing this because he has a fabulous job as the head of Agassi Graf Holdings in Las Vegas, Nevada. And he isn’t going to give it up to dive – headfirst – into quicksand.

Why is Miller the right choice? Let me count the ways:

(1) He is decisive, straightforward and opinionated. That’s going to be essential for anyone working in the political tornado that is USATF.

(2) He has long experience in growing and business and in obtaining sponsorship. Miller worked for nine years as a senior executive at Nike (1991-2000) and then helped to resurrect the Professional Bowlers Association Tour from 2000-2005 from a near-death status after its sale to an investor group. Believe it or not, pro bowling was in a lot worse shape then than track & field is today!

(3) Miller has his roots in coaching, serving as the track coach at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California in the 1970s and at Kansas State from 1981-87. Essential to deal with the coach-heavy power structure at USATF.

Straight talk, with business, league-building and coaching experience and expertise. Could there be a better fit?

Moreover, Miller noted in the T&FN story that – at least for now – the USATF focus needs to be on the pre-high school and post-collegiate athlete as our prep and collegiate programs continue to be top-flight developmental forums for which our national Olympic sports federations don’t have to pay a dime (yet).

Having sold a few sponsorships myself over the years, the revenue-generating difficulties facing a new USATF CEO are daunting. The association only has around 100,000 members, spread out from youth to masters, across the country. USATF as an entity owns only a few events, mostly its national championships, which are bid out to independent entities like the Oregon Track Club, who are the actual operators. If USATF is to attract more money for the sport so that it can fund more athletes, it has to have more inventory to sell to sponsors and television. At the end of the day, there are really only six significant income opportunities for USATF:

• (1) Television rights;
• (2) Sponsorships;
• (3) Event ticket sales;
• (4) Donations (example: USOC);
• (5) Membership dues;
• (6) Government (local, state or federal).

Unfortunately, items (1)-(2)-(3) are tied up in events and there aren’t many meaningful elite-competition meets in the U.S. any more, and the U.S. government has traditionally not allocated funds for elite-athlete support (and none will be coming anytime soon in the current recession and deficit-spending era).

So the sport needs new events, new organizers, better television exposure and some tireless, active tub-thumping. Just like bowling, a dozen years ago.

Steve . . . help!

Steve?

(You can stay current with Rich’s technology, sports and Olympic commentaries by following him at www.twitter.com/RichPerelman.)

7 Comments

  1. Sorry Rich, the best choice for the CEO position was, twice, not even given a serious interview; Bill Schmidt. The points you made in Steve Miller’s favor Bill has, in spades. He was the marketing exec with Gatorade who 1) signed Michael Jordan to the first major athlete endorsement deal, followed by many others 2) dealt w/ TV execs while developing the NBA All Star weekend/Slam Dunk contest, MLB Home run All star event & NHL All Star skills events 3) made Oakley from a “who?” to a major company 4) coached at Univ of Tenn during the Stan Huntsman heyday years as well as running several events at the 1984 Olympic Games and, oh yeah, was a bronze medalist @ 1972 Olympic Games in javelin. Bill’s resume’ reads like the USATF job description yet he was barely given the time of day for a job he wanted and would have made a major, positive difference. If Steve was involved in decisions that did not support even a serious look at Bill Schmidt as CEO that judgement alone disqualifies him for the position.

  2. I don’t doubt that Bill Schmidt is a highly qualified candidate for the USATF CEO position. But, my believe for the past 20 years is that the best person to run track’s NGB is by far Steve Miller. He has the international experience from the high-up executive positions he held with Nike as well as knowing the ropes of American T&F. A big misconception people in the U.S. make is comparing USATF with leagues such as NBA, MLB, NFL, NHL, MLS (didn’t we just learn this mistake?,) etc. USATF is a non-for-profit National Governing Body. NGBs have a different purpose and focus from leagues (one example: follow the money path.) Miller has built winning track programs starting back to when he was a high school coach on the South Side of Chicago. He is the Hitman we need to raise track on the public and corporate awareness scales.

  3. “In fact, that a Board member will not become CEO is a pity, because the best candidate – by far – sits on the Board today: Steve Miller.”

    Rich, how do you know this? I say that Sam Seemes is the best candidate. Prove to me that Steve Miller is better.

  4. Mike- Steve Miller as CEO is a moot point: USATF/USOC by laws do not allow board members to also act/be selected as CEO. From my time as an event chair w/ USATF High Performance I know how screwed up this organization is and having known and worked with Bill for over a decade I can tell you he’s the guy USATF needed.

  5. Steve Miller would be an excellent choice..The sport needs a leader who understands how to promote a sport in todays competitive sports world.

  6. He’d never take it. Why leave a great job paying much more money without all the political bull[expletive deleted] for USATF?

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