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

We Need MORE Track Towns, Not Just One

Dec 29th, 2013
9:19 am PDT

PlaceholderIn my last post, I mentioned several things that I would like to see happen in 2014 – and I will address all ten of them during the early part of the new year. Reading the news yesterday morning, however, I decided to close out the year with something I don’t want to see happen. The establishment of permanent sites for major championship meets in the United States.

Now before I get too far along, I’ve somewhat breached this topic before – and each time I’ve been accused of not liking or putting down Eugene. This in spite of the fact that I’ve said little negative about Eugene, and nothing about the fans or meet production. This is not about Eugene but about what’s best for the sport in America. Or in the words of Mr.Spock, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

The reason I bring the topic up is that I just read that the NCAA is awarding Its National Championships to Eugene through the year 2021 – that’s an 8 year run! This as most of the meets held in the past half decade have been in Eugene.

Now, I DO UNDERSTAND why the NCAA and USATF choose Eugene with regularity to host their championships. They put on quality meets, They have an established fan base, which guarantees people in the stands and consistent revenue. And this is the basis of comments I see from those in support of Eugene hosting this level of meet. What I don’t see, however, are comments that have the phrase "for the good of the sport in the United States”. Good experience for the athletes. Great for Eugene. Great show. And great for the NCAA & USATF.

Which is point #1 as to why it’s not great for the sport in the United States – it enables both bodies to do what it does to build the sport in this country, NOTHING. Just leave it to Lananna and crew to put on the meet – off the grid in the far reaches of the Great North West.  Great for the 158,000 people of Eugene, but what about the other 314,933,000 people in the United States – what are we doing to market to THEM? The distance runners on my cross country team will never have the opportunity to see Galen Rupp, Mary Cain, or Bernard Lagat. Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay, and LaShawn Merritt are just names on the Internet – as remote as Usain Bolt to young sprinters in Arizona, Texas, or Florida.

Except young sprinters in Jamaica can actually go see Bolt compete in Kingston! Sure, you’ll say, Jamaica is a small country. And I will say, very true – which is why it’s OK for Jamaica to centralize it’s championship meets and why we need venues spread across the country!

When I talk about this sport I continue to talk about the product – the athletes, the competition. Not gimmicks like half meets, rock bands, or street races. Ironically Eugene is proof of that. Get the right athletes on the track and people will go to your meet even if they have to leave the airport and take a bus because the town is too small to house a major airport. That experience should NOT be confined to Eugene. It should be replicated, and spread around the country. In much the same way as famous exhibits like the King Tut exhibit were/are taken around the country for EVERYONE to have a chance to experience, track and field needs to take it’s biggest meets around the country to generate greater interest in the sport!

Of course THAT requires work! Something that the leadership in the sport in this country is seriously lacking – which is why one of my ten items on the I want to see list is there. It would require MARKETING new areas. Developing new teams of "Lananna Legions" to do the work required to pull off a world class presentation. And neither USATF or the NCAA are prepared to do that. So just award a meet to Eugene and let them pull it off.

I have a better idea, let’s find a half dozen other locations across the country – if here are more even better. And let’s sub contract with the people in Eugene – I kinda like the term Lananna’s Legions – to teach/assist/take the lead in putting the meet on. You see, I LOVE the job they do, and I’ve never said Eugene shouldn’t have a meet. What I have said, and am saying now, is that this is the United States of America and we should A) have multiple BIG MEET locations throughout the US, and B) the biggest meets of all in terms of championships should be held in locations that provide the greatest potential exposure within a region.

That said any meet with global implications – ie World Championships or Olympics – should be held in a city/location with international access. The same rules that the MLB, the NBA, NFL and other major sports use to approve cities ability to host their biggest events – Super Bowl, etc – should be in place when USATF and USOC are putting together World and Olympic bids. Airport access, number of available h hotel rooms, available media space and access.

If we can’t do that, we’re not attempting to be world class, merely self satisfying. Everyone admits that the sport has issues in this country. One of the largest is lack of exposure. Confining our best competitions and competitors to a single small spot on the map only exacerbates that problem. Nothing against any single location, but we need to BUILD the SPORT, not a location. Eugene does a great job because it’s had practice and the people have been exposed. That needs to happen in several areas. That’s why Nike has several of its Nike Town’s in select areas, and Apple has Genius Bars in select areas. Marketing is about exposure – in MAJOR AREAS. That’s how the successful do it. That’s how track and field should be doing it. We need MORE Track Towns.


“The truth doesn’t need you to recognize it for it to be so“ – Hobbs
"There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true." – Soren Kierkegaard

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