What About the Sport?

by: Weldon Johnson, LetsRun.com
January 25, 2011

I was a bit surprised when I woke up today and checked the homepage and found the news of USATF hosting the USATF Classic (Tyson Invite) the same day as Millrose with the words "this is as a development worth celebrating."

We've have a loose organizational structure at LetsRun.com and although a lot of what is on the homepage gets associated with me (I think honestly because I have the fastest PRs of anyone associated with LetsRun.com) there usually is not a lot of central planning on what goes on the homepage. There is a lot of trust in what gets put on the homepage whether it is done by me, Rojo, Employee 1.0, or Employee 1.1, that it will speak for the voice of LRC. We all trust one another and 98% of the time this works very well.

This time it didn't. I was pretty livid with "this is as a development worth celebrating." I ran around the house looking for the phone trying to call Rojo who I was pretty sure was responsible for the line (we have one person responsible for a big update of the website each night and last night it was Rojo).

I've been an outspoken critic of the Millrose Games** moving from Madison Square Garden to the Armory. The sport needs to be on the biggest stage possible before the biggest audience possible. Millrose moving to the Armory is not a step in that direction.  So I should be happy that USATF is sticking it to Millrose right? No.

It would be better for the sport if Millrose, the USATF Classic, and USATF were all working together.  The USATF Classic succeeding at the expense of Millrose is not best for the sport. Both of them succeeding is.

The USATF Classic on ESPN Is Worth Celebrating
I never was able to get in touch with Rojo (he has a day job coaching at Cornell) so I started writing this piece. I tried to think what he was possibly thinking with "this is as a development worth celebrating." And then I realized apart from the incendiary headline of USATF Sticks It to Millrose, this is a development worth celebrating.

A televised meet before the biggest audience possible (ESPN) with some of the sports biggest stars is a good development. So check and check. In an ideal world if would be best if the meet was not the same day as Millrose, but the more I started thinking about it unless Millrose is on TV does it matter that much?  Say what you want about internet streaming, but in today's age TV is most important in getting the sport before as many people possible. There is a reason NBC didn't bother to stream the Olympic Marathon Trials (very few people watched online last time). TV is still king. Think hundreds of thousands of people watching versus a few thousand.

So if Millrose isn't on TV only hard core track fans will get to see it. Millrose will likely be streamed on Youtube and there is talk of it being on tv but not ESPN, but nothing has been announced. So how is addition of a meet on national TV (even if it's a day delayed) a bad thing? It's not.  

USATF is only sticking it to Millrose with the hard core track fans who will actually realize the meets are the same day. The average sports fan will turn on ESPN and see the meet from Arkansas and that is it.

Sure behind the scenes this may be a pissing match between Nike and New Balance (New Balance is a sponsor of the Armory, Nike is the biggest sponsor in the sport and a big sponsor of USATF), but the rumored shoe infighting is not a big concern of mine. The end result in this instance is what we should evaluate.

One meet on ESPN is better than no meets on ESPN. The Tyson Invite quietly disappeared from the Visa Championship series after 2009. This year it is back albeit with a different name. So this year there will be 4 meets on ESPN (US Open at Madison Square Garden this week, New Balance Indoor Grand Prix from Boston, USATF Classic, and USA Nationals). Last year there were 3.

Millrose explicitly implicitly said by going to the Armory, "USATF we don't want to work with you. We know what is best." So if USATF has the opportunity to get another meet with many of the sports stars on ESPN, is that a good development for the sport? Yes. That is "a development worth celebrating." (Editor's note: Armory Director Norb Sander called as a result of this article to point out that Millrose "attempted to work with USATF from the start. Our concept of the meet is fundamentally different." He noted that the Armory was willing to cross-promote the meets, helped sell some US Open tickets this year, and is "going to have the best Millrose Games in 10 years.")

The concept of USATF "sticking it" to Millrose however is not worth celebrating. The governing body is supposed to support the sport as a whole.  With very few pro meets in the US it would be best if they could work together. The problem is there are very few grown ups in the room thinking about the sport as a whole. We've got a lot of big fish in little ponds.

Having the USA Track & Field Classic on ESPN is a good thing, but our sport would be a little better off with a little cooperation as well. Just as Nick Symmonds says athletes need to stop being 100% focused on themselves and start worrying a little about the sport as a whole, the 'suits' in charge of track and field need to do the same.

The Millrose people however can't take the high-road on this one. They gave a big finger to USATF and the history of the sport. Hopefully, they get their meet on TV this year (although Millrose and the USATF Classic are the same day, the USATF Classic won't be on ESPN until the next day, so the opportunity is still there for Millrose to be on TV on the 11th) and it succeeds. And hopefully people go to this weekend's US Open at the Garden (There is a great matchup between Bernard Lagat vs World silver medallist Silas Kiplagat vs Dan Komen in the mile, plus Asafa Powell vs Richard Thompson vs Justin Gatlin in the 60m. Where else can you entertain your family at the Garden for $15-$75 a ticket?).

*Disclosure: The New Balance Indoor Grand Prix has been advertising regionally on LetsRun.com. We also are starting today voluntarily putting up some banners for the US Open in NYC because we do believe the sport should be on the biggest stage possible. So think about going to Saturday's US Open if you're in New York and want to entertaining your family for a bargain. Get your tickets here).

**In addition to being a harsh critic of Millrose moving to the Armory, we began calling the meet TMFKAMG (The Meet Formerly Known As the Millrose Games) on LetsRun.com. The last time I checked in our poll 51% of you thought calling the meet TMFKAMG was a bad idea so after this year it will stop (although basically 50% of the people are apparently outraged like we are). Hopefully, using TMFKAMG will deter people in the future from putting their own interest way, way before the sports' interest.

(PS For the record, Rojo says the only part he was celebrating the fact that there is going to be a meet with stars like Galen Rupp, Kirani James, etc on national tv. He wasn't celebrating the death match USATF and The Armory (and Nike/New Balance) appear to be having with each other. Well at some level he says he was. The sport is so dysfunctional already, it might as well be dysfunctional in an entertaining way.).

(Editor's note: Armory Director Norb Sander called as a result of this article to point out that Millrose "attempted to work with USATF from the start. Our concept of the meet is fundamentally different." He noted that the Armory was willing to cross-promote the meets, helped sell some US Open tickets this year, and is "going to have the best Millrose Games in 10 years.")

More LRC Millrose:   How the Millrose Games As We Knew It Died
Millrose Emails: Track And Field: Entertain Or Die Slowly

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