Hayward is our sports Fenway, but let’s remember the Red Sox play half their games on the road.
by Robert Johnson
January 8, 2014
Editor’s note: Last month the NCAA awarded every NCAA outdoor track and field championships to Eugene, Oregon through the year 2021. With the Pre Classic there every year, USAs there most years and World Juniors in 2014, LetsRun.com co-founder Robert Johnson thinks it’s too much and has written a column expressing that belief. Originally we were going to include this sentiment in our Week That Was weekly recap, but decided to give it its own piece and present it during the slow news early January time-frame as a pro-con debate. We decided to get up today when we found another column expressing disapproval of every NCAA going to Eugene.
We actually have three articles arguing against having nearly every big meet in Eugene and only one supporting the idea, so if you want to write a guest column in favor of having every meet in Eugene, please email us.
“Most places the football coach is the person everybody has to pay attention to. Here it’s the track guy.”
“We’re never going to be Football Town. We’re never going to be Baseball Town. We’re never going to be Basketball Town. We’re going to be good in all those sports and we want to be great in everything, but everyone who’s anyone in this community is somehow connected to track and field.”
-Track Town USA head Vin Lananna talking to the Eugene Register-Guard last month.
Compare that hubris-filled statement with the facts:
Stats: How Popular Is Track Really in Eugene:
57,490 – average Oregon football attendance last year.
16,543 – average attendance at Texas high school state track meet last year.
12,364 – seating capacity of Matthew Knight Arena which Oregon basketball sold out twice last year
9,530 – average Oregon Pac 12 attendance for the basketball team
12,816 – attendance for the 2013 Nike Prefontaine Classic at Hayward field which wasn’t sold out. Update: Pre meet director Tom Jordan has emailed to say the 2013 meet sold out faster than any other in history. The 2012 meet, when there were 3000 extra seats available for the Olympic Trials didn’t sell out.
10,111 – average attendance at the 2013 NCAA Track and Field Championships which wasn’t sold out.
9,531- average Oregon men’s basketball attendance in 2013 for Pac 12 games and articles were written about the disappointing basketball attendance.
I’m not saying that there isn’t a special connection between Eugene and track and field. There is – a rough guess might be that there are an extra 5,000 fans that will show up in Eugene that you might not get elsewhere, but let’s not go overboard.
My point is the facts show that the NCAA national championships in Eugene are way less popular than an Oregon football game and are about as popular as your average Oregon Pac 12 basketball game in Eugene and people were criticizing the Eugene basketball attendance last year.
Nike/Oregon people, please don’t get offended. I’m not saying that Eugene/Nike/Oregon don’t do an incredible amount to prop up the sport – they do. The sport would be nothing without them.
And I’m not saying that myth-making isn’t a good and an important part of making any sport relevant – it is. So hype the hell out of Track Town USA as I definitely want Eugene to be Track Town USA.
All I’m saying is, “Let’s don’t go over the top. Track and field is far from super popular in Eugene and I’m not sure every big meet in the US should be held there.”
There’s nothing wrong with admitting that – the same would be true if said about any city in Europe, Kenya, etc.
Our friend, Olympic writer Alan Abrahamson wrote a thought provoking piece last month related to this idea which had a very provocative title:
The opening line of his article pretty much sums up perfectly what the piece is all about:
“Eugene, Oregon, is a beautiful little town. It has many virtues. The issue at hand is whether it ought to be the track and field ghetto of the entire United States.”
Abrahamson’s piece came after Eugene was awarded every NCAA outdoor track and field championship through 2021 and he like me:
a) wondered if this necessarily was a good thing and
b) was put off a little bit by the hubris of Oregon. In his case, it was the Oregon AD Rob Mullens who went over the top when he said, “Being the birthplace of running in the United States, Track Town USA offers the most unique experiences for both student-athletes and fans alike.”
I’ve long thought trying to have every big track meet in Eugene is a mistake. It’s good to learn that I have company in Abrahamson and in high school throws coach Dan McQuaid. Let me explain why I think Eugene shouldn’t host every big meet:
In my mind, there are three types of track and field fans:
1) The die-hards/parents that will go no matter what (A big part of this group are current and ex-athletes, parents, coaches, agents, etc.)
2) Casual track fans that might go if it’s in the area or for a really special occasion (Those that maybe ran track back in the day and realize NCAAs are in town for the first time in 10 years or those that think: ‘Hey I’ve never been to Hayward before’)
3) Newbies – Those who like to go to new things in their town, try something new or support the community
The attendance figures mainly come from 1, but by having it in Eugene every year you are greatly reducing the chances that #2 and #3 will show up. And yes, there are more casual fans in Eugene but even they will get fatigued by having Pre, USA and NCAAs in town nearly every single year.
I actually agree with the second part of Mr. Mullens statement, “Track Town USA offers the most unique experiences for both student-athletes and fans alike.”
That is a true statement. Going to Hayward Field for someone not from Eugene indeed is special and unique. But it’s not the most special and unique experience for a fan who is doing it for the third time in three years. Just as a steak lover who lives down the street from the single best steak house in the country doesn’t want to go eat there every single night, a track fan doesn’t want to go to Eugene every single year, sometimes two or three times per year.
How often is someone from say the East Coast going to want to spend thousands and make a family vacation out of a track meet and fly to Eugene? As great as Pre’s Rock, Pre’s Trail and Hayward Field are, that’s something you might do once every few years – not every year, multiple times.
As for the first part of Mr. Mullens statement, that’s just absurd. Eugene wasn’t the birthplace of running – it was the birthplace of Nike.
In the short-term, is having every meet in Eugene likely resulting in a bigger crowd? Yes.
I actually agree with Pat Henry of Texas A&M who said the following about Eugene, “At this time, Eugene has shown itself to be the best place to run a track meet in this country, and my hope is that it remains great. I think it was the right decision by the NCAA.”
The first sentence is certainly true – large crowds and weather that is pretty good for both sprinters and distance runners. The second sentence is actually probably true as well when you are looking at it solely at the self-interest of the NCAA meet, but it’s not a good decision for track and field as a whole when you combine it with USAs, World Juniors, Prefontaine, etc.
And one of track’s biggest problems is its made up of individual entities (whether it be governing bodies, event groups (distance, sprints, jumps), events (major marathons, diamond league events), shoe companies) that are constantly looking out for only their own interest and not the sport’s as a whole interest.
In the long-term, it’s not good for the sport for so many events to be in Eugene. As Abrahamson pointed out, Omaha is the home of the College World Series and Oklahoma City is the home of NCAA softball. What do both of them have in common? Neither sport is in the Olympics.
More: *LetsRun.com Homepage with Pro/Con Eugene Articles
Abrahamson: Eugene: track ghetto or capital?
*Texas A&M coach Henry: TrackTown USA earned NCAAs
*Future NCAA Championships Sites For Cross-Country And Indoor And Outdoor Track And Field Announced Through At Least 2018
*Lananna closing in on worlds
*Jesse Squire’s 2013 Attendance data
PS. I’d actualy be fine with NCAAs being there every year but not when added on with all of the other events.