Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The US is Part of the Diamond League - Now What Happens in the Spring?

The Diamond League released its inaugural schedule for 2010. The 14 meet series will expand outside of Europe and include meets in Asia, North America and the Middle East. The 2010 Schedule:

Doha (QAT) – Fri 14 May
Shanghai (CHN) – Sun 23 May
Oslo (NOR) – Fri 4 June
Rome (ITA) – Thu 10 June
New York (USA) – Sat 19 June
Eugene (USA) – Sat 3 July
Lausanne (SWI) – Thu 8 July
Gateshead (GBR) – Sun 11 July
Paris (FRA) – Fri 16 July
Monaco (MON) – Thu 22 July
Stockholm (SWE) – Fri 6 Aug
London (GBR) – Fri 13 and Sat 14 Aug
Z├╝rich (SWI) – Thu 19 Aug
Brussels (BEL) – Fri 27 Aug
The good news for fans here in the United States is that we now get two world class stops during the summer - New York and Eugene. The BAD news is that New York and Eugene have been our most exciting domestic meets during the Spring! So while I am ecstatic that we will have some of the worlds best athletes coming to our shores in their pursuit of the Diamond League prize, it makes the task of building up our own domestic schedule even tougher.

Looking at this year's "Visa" series New York and Eugene were clearly the stars of the show. Carson had more empty seats than a theater between movies. And newly added Drake suffered from the horrible weather that typically affects meets in that part of the country. Outside of the Visa series the Modesto Relays was moved to Sacramento and renamed the California Relays only to be canceled and put off until next year due to lack of funding!

I'm sorry, but what does this say if these are the signature meets in the United States? I hope USATF is planning to meet on this topic - actually they should have met already, but that's asking for a bit much - because it is time to try and map out a legitimate series of high level meets in this country. And the Diamond League has actually done us a favor by absorbing New York and Eugene because it gives us the opportunity to start from scratch.

Losing New York as a venue hurts because it is one of our top media centers. But losing Eugene gives us the opportunity to build something in a larger, more media appropriate community. No offence to the fans of Eugene, but in order to build track and field in this country we need to get out to where the people and the media are located. Track Town USA is a nice title, but rings somewhat hollow when it's located out in the middle of nowhere.

We need to start developing meets in areas with high visibility, large populations, easy accessibility, history of sporting activities and active fan bases. In short, rather than reinvent the wheel, we should be looking at areas that already support professional sports - because they already possess the needed "infrastructure".

So instead of our signature meets being in Modesto, Eugene, Des Moines, and Fayetteville, perhaps we should be looking at places like Atlanta, Dallas, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. After all, if we consider Europe as the model since they continue to have successful meets annually, their meets are almost always in the hot spots in the country - Paris, Rome, Berlin, Zurich, Monaco, Moscow, London! And not so coincidently guess what cities they use when submitting their Olympic bids? Even those areas outside of Europe without the same type of "circuits" put their best faces on when hosting world class track meets - Kingston, Rio de Janeiro, Doha.

We're the largest, most successful, track power, yet the only one that tries to build the sport in its own country without using its primary cities. Not so coincidently, I believe, that's why we're having the least success in doing so!

We need to be smarter in building the sport here in the United States. I'm not saying that we can't have meets in smaller cities/towns. We need all the exposure we can get in this country for the sport. But our showcase events need the best exposure possible. Having a Visa meet in horrible weather in Des Moines, an NCAA Championship with long rain delays in the weather of Arkansas, or our national championships out in the woods in Oregon is just counter productive.

Now, how about a meet in Dallas Texas? Texas is a big track state. I bet you can work with the Cowboys and Mavericks on some promotional activities - especially with those that are former track and field athletes. A huge base of colleges and high schools rabid about the sport. Why can't we develop a Visa meet in Dallas?

Same with Atlanta. Georgia is huge in track and field as a state. Lots of local colleges, strong high school base. Pro teams available with the Hawks, Braves and Falcons to work some creative cross marketing opportunities. Or how about the San Francisco area with the Raiders, 49ers, Giants, Warriors, and A's. Tons of college and high school programs in the area - and the weather would never be a problem!

My point here is that with the Diamond League taking what have been our best meets and moving them to the summer, it opens up the opportunity to rebuild our own infrastructure of the sport. A chance to get back to track and field in the US like we had at our peak when sell out meets like the Coliseum Classic and the Pepsi Invitational in Los Angeles, or Jack in the Box in San Diego were showcases for the sport! A chance to take track and field and make it more main stream by placing it in our population centers, our showcase cities, our media centers. Put it side by side with other professional sports and athletes and place our athletes beside them and market them in the same manner. Let America see that our athletes are as good as those they are watching in other sports and that their performances can be seen in the areas that they are already used to seeing star athletes!

If we want track and field to grow in this country this must be done. Like any other form of entertainment, as long as we are only playing in small towns and out of the way places we will remain an unknown quantity. That's why eventually all performers (actors, singers, dancers) move away from Iowa, Nebraska and Mississippi and head to Los Angeles and New York - to get discovered! Its time for track and field to get rediscovered in this country. Its time for us to move to the venues with the bright lights so we can showcase what we do. Now is the perfect time.

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