Texas Gauntlet: Words are Cheap in a Sport that's Broke
Last December the Austin Track Club presented the Professional Track & Field Summit. Our speakers included some of the most successful athletes and prominent personalities in our sport: Adam Nelson, Keith Hanson, Amy Acuff, Lauren Fleshman, and Jack Wickens among others. The idea for the Summit was born when then-club manager Jake Morse and I realized that everyone we talked to - regardless of where they were in the country, what they did in or for the sport or how long they had been involved with track - were identifying the same problems and obstacles to athletes’ financial success. Our goal for the Summit was to get the sports’ influencers in one room to do one final round of problem identification and taking stock of what has failed in the past. We put the conference on Flotrack so the entire track community could get on the same page. With everyone aligned, 2013 would be the year where we move past fierce denunciations and airy dreams into the realm of actions and results.
As we approach one year on from the Summit, I think it’s fair to declare it a failure.
Last year, logos were the hot topic. This summer the sport found its new point of contention in the role of elite athletes at participation road races, thanks to the latest bête noire, the Competitor Group. Since CGI’s announcement, the usual poobahs of our punditocracy have taken to their keyboards to cast blame, fling accusations, and rally the troops. Every week is another series of volley and counterattack. But who’s taking action once they log out of Wordpress? Who’s putting the time, money and effort into the day-to-day grind of making these pie-in-the-sky concepts come to life? “If we could just get track and field on TV, with knowledgeable and entertaining commentators, and lots of sponsorship money, and teams that people love, we’ll be all set!” True, and not impossible. But it is a long, grueling, grinding road to get there. A very few people are doing it. They’re the ones we should be hearing more about. They don’t need idea factories or to be told what would be totally awesome. What they need to hear is “What can I do to help? I have an audience - how can I bring them to you?”
Anyone who follows politics knows what I’m talking about. It’s easy to get wrapped up in fiery speeches, chanting catchy slogans, getting into Twitter wars and lambasting your opponent while your candidate promises to blaze the path into the future. But if you’re lucky enough to win on Election Day, you have a surprise just around the corner. “Four more years! Four more years!” gets the blood flowing far more than chamber of commerce meetings and “If we attach a rider for a 3% reduction in funding over the next 2 quarters, then we can agree to back their motion for the highway bill.” That’s how the promises and the passion of campaign season become a reality. It’s tedious, frustrating, frequently disillusioning. And it’s every bit as invisible as it is essential.
If you want to change the track and field world, go commit to a race, meet or club. Work on the committee that will deal with street closures, local noise ordinances or port-a-john and trash can rentals. Hit the sponsorship trail and learn what it’s like to have hours of research and prospecting result in 90% of your prospects not even returning your e-mails or calls, 5% reject you outright, and 5% give you a glimmer of hope. With that latter 5%, learn what is required of a sponsored property in 2013 to create value and relevance for a sponsor. Logo placements? Good luck with that. If you have a popular blog, highlight the people and events that are advancing the sport. Talk about races like Re:Run San Diego, which exploded the paradigm for track meets, or Bring Back the Mile and their affiliates. Those are groups that work every day, investing their time and money, at the most mundane tasks to get to the point in 2016 when they’ll present a race that makes you say “I so had that idea in 2013.” I’m sure you did, but you had no idea what it would take to get there.
We have an old saying down here in Texas: Put up or shut up. If you think your idea is worth sharing with your readership, then I will match your confidence by offering to work with you to bring it to reality. Got an idea for a race? Let’s make it happen, right here in Austin. Know a way to attract sponsors and make this sport valuable? Let’s hash it out and start the legwork. Are you looking to highlight some good news in your blog, someone who is working to make all this happen? I’ll happily set you up with a round of introductions. Think the answer lies in better commentators? We’ll work with you to set up auditions and media training to create the Chris Berman of track and field. Whatever. It. Takes.
Austin is the start-up and risk-taking capital of the world - track and field will not be an exception. Hopefully the next time I hear from you will be at firstname.lastname@example.org.