The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

We (USA) Need to Utilize Better Venues

May 27th, 2013
2:06 pm PDT

Me for Blog picThis was supposed to be one HOT weekend of track and field. The NCAA was hosting its Regional "meets" and the third round of the Diamond League was taking place in New York. Yet after all was said and done, I came away from the weekend realizing why the sport continues to lose popularity in this country – and why only we track "Die Hards" are watching the sport here in the U.S.

Today I will talk about New York, where a great line up of athletes was reduced to average performances in horrible weather conditions. Tyson Gay easing to 10.02. Christian Taylor freezing his way to a 53’10" leap. Britney Reese fouling all three of her long jumps. David Rudisha held to 1:45.14. And a "crowd" of just over 5,100 "die hard" fans braving the elements to watch the world’s best perform in these horrible conditions.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time we’ve seen conditions like this in New York. While there have been meets there with decent conditions, there is generally a 50/50 chance we get the conditions we saw this weekend – and almost 0 that we have outstanding conditions! Is this really how we want to present the sport in the U.S.? Apparently so, because our biggest meets are routinely held in locations with a history of regularly terrible conditions.

Next week’s second U.S entry in the Diamond League will be held in Eugene. A venue known for rainy weather, bad pollen, and a back roads trip to get there. Yet the Diamond League meet is held there, and the Olympic Trials, National Championships, and NCAA Championships are routinely held here as well. Similarly Drake University in Iowa has a relay meet and gets its regular shots at the NCAA Championships and National Championships in spite of routinely horrible weather. This year Eugene gets the NCAA Champs and Drake the National Championships! Anyone want to lay odds on the number of bad weather days between the two?

Don’t get me wrong, these places do a great job at hosting track and field. They do know how to put on a good meet. Good enough that when I have conversations with people about these locations the first response is almost always "the weather isn’t their fault" – which is true. But "fault" doesn’t change the damage done in an auto accident, nor does it make the conditions any better for a track meet.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we don’t have meets in these venues. But I’m probably going to draw the ire of many when I say I don’t think we should have signature meets there, because having meets where the weather is routinely poor and unpredictable certainly doesn’t help increase the EXPOSURE of the sport here in the United States. And at the end of the day THAT should be the overarching goal of USATF, its CEO, and the competition committee – to build the brand of track and field in the United States, not just a couple of venues!

Now admittedly when it comes to track and field I’m old school. I remember having big meets in great locations with awesome weather and outstanding performances. I also remember when meets "rotated" all over the country. Not so coincidentally, in my humble opinion, the sport was IMMENSELY popular with huge crowds ALL OVER THE COUNTRY! Locations like Los Angeles, San Jose, Sacramento, Houston, Knoxville, Atlanta, and New Orleans among others have hosted Trials and National Championships VERY successfully – I know I’ve attended meets in all of them.

We also have seen tremendously successful world class meets held in these locations as well as "smaller" cities like Fresno, Palo Alto, Berkeley, and locations like North Carolina, Arizona, and New Mexico. Granted this was before the going rate for athletes went through the roof. Apparently we are finding the money to invite them to venues with horrible conditions, so I see no reason why we can’t find the money to have them compete in good conditions.

Of course along with the high price of athletes, we have the spectre of the politicizing of the sport. I know that Eugene, while hosting a great meet, has done so on the considerable coattails of NIKE which is locally based and pumps a ton of money into the meets and Hayward field is their baby. And I’m sure that Adidas is enamored with the lure of having a meet in The Big Apple. But both also need to be looking at the overall health of the sport in the US – because if it fails here, and it is, they fail in the long run. THAT is the message that USATF needs to be delivering to these shoe companies and other potential sponsors.

The sad thing is that we have some GREAT venues. The Home Depot Center in Southern California was built SPECIFICALLY to host these types of competitions. The most fan friendly facility I’ve ever watched a meet in in this country is in Berkeley – another facility designed just for track and field. There’s not a bad seat at UCLA. Cerritos Community College and Sacramento City College are both awesome facilities for watching track and field. And these are just a few facilities right here in California!

My point is simple, in a sport that needs all the positive exposure it can get, we continue to do the wrong things for the wrong reasons. And hosting meets in horrible conditions on a regular basis is the wrong thing regardless of who’s paying the bills! USATF needs to take the lead, bring folk to the table, and develop a series of meets that works for EVERYONE- not a select few. Our National meets, and those getting international exposure, need better venues. New York is the right idea, but the weather doesn’t work. Eugene runs a great meet but the weather and location are not world class, and I’ve enjoyed wonderful meets in Eugene. The dog (USATF) should be wagging the tail!

This is about the sport itself, and the health of the sport in the U.S. depends on our putting a better face on our productions. Inviting the world (and our own athletes) to our best cities. Ensuring to the degree that we can that they compete in locations conducive to outstanding performances, so that they want to return again and again. Making sure that they get a good slice of American culture. And our National Championships should be held in locations that provide great weather that levels the playing field for everyone and are conducive to great performances while limiting the chance of injury to the degree that’s possible.

When this is done and the sport shines, people take notice and they WATCH and you develop fans! Sport is entertainment. Entertainment requires access. Great venues. Accessible venues. And with outdoor sports, great weather. It’s not rocket science.Next, my problem with NCAA Regional meets.

10 Responses to “We (USA) Need to Utilize Better Venues”

  1. Allan A. Fulsher says:

    I think that you are being overly harsh towards Eugene as a site for major competitions. The weather in Eugene is far superior to the weather in many of the venues that you suggested. After March, the rain is not a significant factor. From May through October, you will not find a better combination of temperature and low humidity. I have spent about 50 Summers in the Willamette Valley and I do not believe that any location that you have mentioned has better weather. There are places with more heat, which the sprinters and jumpers like, but the distance runners do not like too much heat.Portland and Eugene have airports and the drive down I-5 from Portland is not tough. I have made it more than a thousand times.

    • CHill says:

      First, thank you for reading and replying ..

      As I said Eugene runs a wonderful meet … Pre, Trials, etc .. I’ve been to them and have NO complaints …

      As for the weather, you and I both know there are issues .. Our top distance runner has to run in a mask … The Trials last year had as many inclement days as good ones …

      More than that however, we need the sport front and center in the U.S. in order to be taken seriously by the “public” that we need to entice in order to build this sport back to some semblance of prominence ..

      We both know that a World Championships or another Games can never be held in Eugene .. Logistics say so .. That, Morgan anything, is why it can’t be the face of the sport .. It can host Pre, it should host Pre .. But we need more and bigger than Pre ..

      Pre should be our “small” meet … It should be our Rieti or Ostrava .. Not our London, Rome, or Berlin ..

      My point isn’t too not utilize Eugene, but that it should not be the core .. That we should be more main stream .. That err should be cultivating cities capable of hosting Worlds sized meets ..

      • Elias Laurent says:

        Conway, it is easy to say that Eugene should be our small meet…but again, you neglect the sad harsh reality that the rest of America — and it’s cities — no longer care.

        Society has changed, and the sport itself is a problem. The needs of sprinters don’t fit the needs of distance runners etc.

        As for Rupp wearing a mask, that was once. Might happen again, and it is unfortunate that a few athletes have allergies…but the vast majority of athletes don’t have allergy issues.

        Let me state it another way, if LA or N. Cal could stage world class meets…they would.

        Years ago, a group tried to mount an effort to get the WC’s at Stanford. The effort failed. Now that stadium is gone.

        I think, sadly, we’re going to have to enjoy what is left of our sport…it has become a small niche, boutique sport, and Eugene, and the Pre are great events all things considered.

        The start lists for this years Pre is impressive.

        Any other city or company could sponsor a meet like that if they had interest…and that is the problem.

        The days of 60-80k fans in the LA Col stadium, CAL USA v USSR, Modesto etc., are over.

        • CHill says:

          I’m going to disagree with you and I’ll tell you why ..

          The problem is that those closest to the sport have “decided” that the sport is dead in this country … And therefore what “little” there is should be celebrated and we should be happy we have that !! And I’m sorry, but I’m not one of those people ..

          The issue is not that people don’t care, or regions don’t care, or that this country doesn’t care … The issue is:

          The sport continues to try to run itself under the amateur framework, when a professional model is needed ..

          I name meets that were packed and ran well under that framework but fail now because no one has bothered to change things to create the cash flow that would enable success !!!

          It’s not complicated … The cost of a single I’ve named many meets with great fields that required little more than invitations, hotel rooms, good food and a little something in athletes pockets .. today couldn’t run most old school meets …

          Now you need multi million dollar pockets to fund a meet because we’re still operating under the amateur framework .. If ANY professional sport today tried to operate that way it would fail !!

          You can not run a meet in 2013 off a 1975 outline … It’s not going to happen – unless you’re meet is run by NIKE or Adidas ..

          Home Depot didn’t fail .. The people in Southern California LOVE track and field !! But Adidas decided it wanted to host a meet in New York !!! Frankly Home Depot is the better facility, but Adidas has the money …

          No community can put on a world class meet in 2013 – none .. Not even Eugene .. if NIKE walked away we’d be calling the people of Eugene failures because they don’t have the resources without NIKE to bring in the talent .. So let’s be careful who we call successes and failures .. because in today’s market the ONLY meets than can succeed are those with corporate backing ..

          And the biggest failure in the US is that the governing body has failed for too long to do its job in securing the corporate backing necessary to put on multiple world class meets in the country ..

  2. Elias Laurent says:


    “If the sport fails here?”

    –It HAS failed here.


    The problem is not one of location. It is one of putting butts in the seats.

    Let’s say you get somebody to foot the bill to hold a meet in one of these halcyon venues and cities you mention. (Let’s say because it has already happened and failed.)(Home Depot).

    Who you going to get to attend? And why? The sport is no longer popular in this country.

    Des Moines and their supermarket money are not holding the sport hostage to greater popularity in…pick a venue and city you’ve cited in this blog post… They are keeping what little popularity that still exists for the sport in the USA, ALIVE.

    All of those cities and venues you longingly look back at have failed and many of them were not as good as you seem to think they were. Many of them had weather problems too.

    Eugene and NIKE are not holding the sport hostage to Eugene, in betrayal of some mythical greater popularity to be found somewhere else in the USA. Those other cities have already FAILED. The people don’t care. Nike has kept the sport alive in this country, sometimes on life support, but alive.

    NIKE may be the big dog in the ecosystem of USA Track and Field, but without it, USATF would have been dead a long time ago.

    So, there is no real danger of “politicizing” track and field because of NIKE’s sponsorship. There’s only potential sour grapes by people with shortsighted views, who are probably looking at the wrong things.

    Take a couple of hours and ponder realistically the fate of track and field in the USA if NIKE pulled out their sponsorship. These meets you’re complaining about would go away, and you would no longer have even the chance at the inconvenience of traveling to them and maybe encountering some weather.

    The inside word is the last several years the other shoes companies have started paying athletes less and less, and signing fewer athletes. The effect on the eco-system is that Nike no longer has to bid as high to sign a desired athlete. So, they can sign more athletes, but for less. And that is because the other shoe companies choose not to support the sport with as many dollars.

    So you really want to say it is not cool that Nike dominates sponsor dollars wise when the other companies have all pulled back spending on track and field. Nike fills a void. They may be the 900lb Gorilla, but these other companies aren’t revealing to you how little they are doing or that they could be doing more. They only spend as much as they do because Nike makes an effort.

    It’s kind of natural that the 900lb Gorilla takes the easiest flack — and Nike IS a big company — let’s not forget that NIKE could be just fine cutting way back on their track and field spending. Luckily their remaining founder is a former track athlete. It’s important not to forget that. Take NIKE out of the equation, people would just complain about the next guy in line.

    Let’s talk about weather.

    It rarely rains in Eugene in June, last year was an anomaly and in fact, ironically, prepared athletes well for the conditions they ended up facing in London. The medal count doesn’t lie.

    The health of our sport does not depend on “putting a better face on our productions.” Are you crazy? A better face is not the massive empty seats in Sacramento, at NCAA’s, and the OT’s (with the exception of big finals days).

    Talk about backroads? No one wanted to stay in “beautiful” Sacramento for the duration of the Trials, so people cherry picked big finals days only, and drove out from the Bay Area. Which meant on a Saturday with a lot of finals, and other events in N. Cal, I80 was gridlocked and people were literally getting off and driving small roads through corn fields to get out of the traffic hell.

    Atlanta? Athletes melting in the heat. Streets still torn up pre-Olympics. A hoard of disappointed scalpers pissed off at the lack of interest in tickets. Good times.

    I’ve heard people complain about Indy, about New Orleans. Maybe you are looking back a little myopically through rose colored glasses at events that also were not perfect. Just about every location had its upsides and downsides.

    The dog already had his chance to wag his tail, and he failed, and he failed again, and again, and again.

    He failed because the sport is no longer popular in the USA. And until that changes, if it ever changes, these smaller communities are the last Havens of the sport.

    And Des Moines is barely making it as far as fans in the seats, plenty of empty seats. If they failed it would be down to Eugene. Fortunately Des Moines certainly has the desire, and appears to have good financial backing. If it was left to Eugene, fans could get fatigue from too many events, as they have in the past, and then see attendance trail off.

    The problem is the sport is no longer popular — in the USA.

    Track and field is now a mostly European sport event wise. China, huge population, lots of empty seats at their last DL meet.

    The places you are complaining about are indeed Last Bastion Havens for a dying sport stateside — without them there is no foothold for which the sport can recover.

    If the sport were still popular, those larger cities and venues would still be supporting the sport.

    The Bay Area doesn’t care. It hasn’t cared in a long time. The Bruce Jenner meet was nice, but the stands were small. And where is it today? Bruce Jenner, according to recent reports, is worth 130 million dollars. He could resurrect that meet. He doesn’t care. Because the sport that made him famous, is a sport he doesn’t even care to help any longer. And why? Because he is a part of the society that doesn’t care any longer. He’d rather arrange reality TV deals for his family.

    It’s not a question of throwing a big meet in a nice location with nice stable weather and “they will come.” “They” don’t care any longer.

    Sacramento failed, and had a lot of short comings when they hosted the NCAA’s and the Olympic Trials. Atlanta couldn’t even support the Olympic Trials well just in advance of the Olympics! Atlanta had weather issues and deserts of empty seats on non marquee days. People raved about how on non marquee days, even with the rain, fans showed up in Eugene, stuck it out, and actually knew how to follow the events. Sacramento, clueless. New Orleans had weather issues, heat and humidity. Sacramento had heat, and smog and wind.

    Los Angeles hosted two Olympics, and now the LA Coliseum no longer has a track! They let the Sunkist Indoor track rot in storage. Los Angeles has lost two NFL teams! LA doesn’t care about most sports. >> UCLA’s vaunted Drake stadium had uneven attendance 1977’s USA’s. It’s the sport, not the locations that is problem.

    Home Depot? Please. Home Depot failed fair and square. Huge corporate sponsor…in a huge metro area…gave it a shot and still couldn’t get it done.

    Mt. Sac. Lots of empty seats. Even with massive amounts of competitors. It is so far out of the city, that many athletes families don’t even show up. And the sprinters families exit en masse when the sprints and relays are done and there’s still distance events to be run. –The sport has more problems than some rain and some pollen.

    “Great weather that levels the playing field”??? You must have really hated London. Wait, didn’t all the athletes compete in the same weather?

    Would I prefer to see the USA’s not at a place with sometimes crappy weather and lots of empty seats. SURE. There goes Des Moines.

    Who’s gonna put up the money? Without Eugene and Des Moines competing against each other…the sport dies further.

    “Inviting the world (and our athletes) to the best cities,” “And our National Championships should be held in locations that provide great weather that levels the playing field for everyone and are conducive to great performances while limiting the chance of injury to the degree that’s possible.

    When this is done and the sport shines, people take notice and they WATCH and you develop fans!”

    –No, that is not how you develop fans. It has already been done, and it was done for decades and it lost fans. Because our society changed.

    The problem of developing new fans for the sport has yet to be solved and it has been talked about ceaselessly without solution for 30 years at least.

    The most noted problem is the idea that Americans like team sports where there are points and winners and losers.

    Maybe some sort of track league, with regional teams, competing as a “B” league to the Diamond League, over the summer, with teams, points, winners, losers, and a championship team competition.

    That’s the best idea I’ve heard.

    But who’s going to fund that?

    All of the cities you cite so affectionately, have failed. Been there, done that. All of those cities have lost the fans. And most of those cities have had their own weather problems outside of California. Sometimes it is wind. Sometimes it is hot enough for the sprints but too hot for the distance events.

    The problem is not the locations, the problem is no fans.

    Two years ago, at the Payton Jordan invitational, my late arriving friend got a parking place 20 yards from the entry gate to the track, 5 minutes before the Elite 5,000’s went off. You could buy a ticket, and walk right to the finish line and sit on the finish line — and see incredible Olympic athletes from all over the world run their “A” standards for 2012.

    The fans in the stands? Runners, former runners, coaches, family, friends. Most of them gray haired.

    Holding meets in those idyllic locations you cite…It’s already been done. And failed. And they weren’t always what you make them out to be.

    Love your passion, but:

    The real question is How To Make Track And Field Popular In The USA Again.

    It’s not location. It’s not weather. It’s the sport that is the problem. And actually the sport is only part of the problem, it is hard to follow, like a 3 ring circus — but the real problem is a society that has changed and is interested in other things.

    That doesn’t get fixed by complaining about the few communities that still give a damn about the sport.

    You want the bigger cities to sponsor the sport again — you have to find a way to make the sport popular in the USA again.

    Too bad Usain Bolt wasn’t born here.

    • CHill says:

      Love your passion as well .. Thanks for both reading and responding … A big reason the sport had died here is lack of dialog from those with history, vision, perspective … So let’s talk …

      I can’t argue with ANYTHING you’ve said because between the two of us we’ve raised about every major problem the sport had seen in this country in the last three plus decades ..

      I think the only question is where lies the cause and effect, and therefore what do you do to fix .. Because so much had gone wrong in this country it’s nearly impossible to determine the starting point for resurrection ..

      I picked location because that is what was on the table this weekend … And yes there have been weather issues with many locations … Humidity in New Orleans was horrible … I was at at thunderstorm in Knoxville once .. I will say that San Jose and Berkeley are near perfect … But getting the requisite backing becomes an issue ..

      And yes the show companies world fast to much power – I say ducking lest I incur their rath … Nike could have made anywhere in the U.S.the world’s capitol of track and field – and still can .. But chooses not to .. If you read my other reasons on this thread,I have no animosity towards Eugene, I just don’t feel it t should be our Rome or London ..

      Now the one thing I will disagree on is that unless you were actually around in the 60s/70s/80s then you can’t say those were idyllic times … I’m constantly reminded by others who were there how different the sport has become … Meets were FUN !!!

      Unless you’ve been to the real Fresno Relays ..Parked about a Mike and a half away and had to walk to the stadium .. Bought some bbq on the street on your way in .. And watched John Carlos talking smack before he walked out and tied the WR … Then returned a couple years later and watch Steve Williams cruise by the girls and do the same thing .. Then I’m sorry, for understanding is slightly amiss ..

      Same for the Jenner Classic, which was designed to raise money to help him train .. And YES he should be paying it back to the sport ..

      One of the greatest meets ever was the Modesto Relays .. How about a sprint fields with Steve Williams, Reggie Jones, Houston Mc Tear, and Don Quarrie and a 9.9 WR .. Same meet with Rod Milburn and Willie Davenport going head to head ..

      Or the Pepsi Invitational at UCLA with James Sanford, Silvio Leonard, and Clancy Edwards ..

      What’s missing is passion .. Because we’ve become too corporate, or not corporate enough … We waited to long to become financially engaged because we didn’t move fast enough .. And now we’re barely moving at all ..

      How do you make track and field popular ??? Big meets .. Big athletes .. Accessible locations … I guess easier said than done … But I know what works, I’ve seen it .. it wasn’t idyllic, it was simple .. the difference now is that it requires money ..

      • Elias Laurent says:

        All due respect, the problem is not what the sport has done alone. The problem is that our society has changed, become more shallow, more interested in obvious, immediate entertainment.

        Track is not responsible for that, track is a victim of it. Not to say that track couldn’t have done some things to staunch the bleeding…but who even knows what those things could have been and if they will work.

        The way to make track and field popular again is via the only method to make anything popular again in the USA, sportswise, Make It An Attractive Television Event.

        In pt. 1 of Ben Lindamen’s article on Drake v Eugene etc., he makes a good point about how disheartening it is for track fans to see a meet in Des Moines and the camera pans to a back stretch with empty stands…

        I think the only way to increase track’s popularity again is through a regular series of team track meets; a league. It is what American fans understand.

        Again, to your point of Nike making Hayward Field the Carnegie Hall of USA track and field. It’s chicken and the egg. Eugene and Hayward Field just have never stopped supporting track and field.

        Nike could have invested that same amount of money over the years in some other location…and I think it would have not succeeded.

        Hey, I wish Stanford were Hayward Field, but it is not. Modesto, Berkley, Drake Stadium, they all failed to retain interest and loyalty from fans.

        I was a kid in the 60’s, aware of all those great meets and competitors… Those meets didn’t go away because of a lack of great athletes etc., they went away because the public got shallower and interested in other things. Kids got interested in computer games, cable tv brought 24 hour mainstream sports…ironically after ESPN was born riding the back of fring sports like Div 2 NCAA track nationals!!!

        Another problem of track and field…and Gary Hill and others have outlined these over time…is the lack of consistently recognizable personalities…i.e. stars like team sports has in Quarterbacks.

        It would be great to see something like a developmental league (only don’t call it that to the public) where the post college athletes who can’t afford to compete in Europe in the summer could compete in the USA.

        Maybe a 6 team league…3 teams on each coast. Just dreaming here, but WA/Or team sponsored by Amazon/Microsoft/Nike, Competing in Seattle and Eugene, an SF Bay Area team sponsored by Apple/Facebook/Google and an LA team sponsored by 3 similar iconic regional corporations.

        The appeal to get all these regional companies to cooperate and sponsor would be that they would be helping develop USA Olympians.

        On the East Coast, you’d have 3 similar teams.

        Anyway, the idea would be to get companies to cooperate in developing both our future Olympians and a viable TV Sport.

        Some have even floated the idea of doing away with the clock…emphasize the mano a mano, or team competition aspect.

        The old ITA idea of using mechanical rabbit or light array to show the athletes where record pace was, was interesting…only in this case it would probably have to be “league record” since world records are now mostly from the epo era etc.

        Anyway, something could be attempted…but some one, or someone’s a cartel of large companies would have to get behind sponsoring it.

        • Elias Laurent says:

          Additionally, you’d have to get the IOC to let you use a name like Olympic Track League.

          You’d need the buzz factor.

  3. Jon Pollard says:

    Thanks for the thoughts. I was at the Pre Classic this year. Hayward Field doesn’t hold many spectators compared to Rome’s Olympic stadium or other venues, but it’s filled with some of the most knowledgable track and field fans in the world. Eugene cares about the sport. Eugene understand what it is seeing and appreciates the performances. I agree with Mr. Laurent’s comments that over decades Eugene and Hayward Field just have never stopped supporting track and field and that Nike could have invested that same amount of money over the years in some other location but without the same success. America pays attention to U.S. athletes once every 4 years. Eugene residents pay attention to the sport all the time. At Hayward Field, the fans go crazy when they see something extraordinary because they UNDERSTAND what is extraordinary. Think about the fans’ reaction to mens’ high jump and the incredible individual performances in the mile at last week’s Pre Classic.

    I am not saying the other venues don’t have knowledgable and pssionate track fans. I am saying, however, that Hayward can fill the stands with them at every major – and minor! – meet. And THAT’s why it is the Carnagie Hall of U.S. track and field.

    • CHill says:

      I hear what you’re saying about Eugene, but there are lots of communities like that .. I’ve been to many .. They just don’t have a Nike in their back yard ..

      This country is full of knowledgeable fans … Most just don’t get credit for it ..

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