Tuesday, October 23, 2007

What is Wrong, Wrong With American Distance Running

Public: Can some random person please make an obvious, worn out point about what should change in American distance running to make it more popular?

ME: Ok, I will.

I love these people who think they need to tell the world via internet how things would be better for all distance runners if they were running the show. They are simple-minded egomaniacs who need to realize that "American distance running" is not some lumbering beast blindly wandering around, just waiting for someone to point him in the right direction.

What is wrong, after the jump.

Seriously, here is what is wrong with American distance running:
This ad is hanging up around NYC. Subways, buses, the usual. It is lame as hell. I can see my Grandma designing this ad. Nana loves Lady Liberty. Unfortunately, Nana is not who we want to get excited about the trials.

Leading up to the U.S. Open tennis tournament, which was in NY, there were posters in the same spots with pictures of Roddick, Federer, Serena, Sharapova, and the other big stars looking all young and hip. Commuters had some young, good looking individuals to look at while waiting for their train and, in the process, learned that the U.S. Open was going on and if they wanted to be hip, they should check it out.

No one in New York is going to be attracted to a picture of the statue of liberty, unless they just got here from 19th century Poland.

I am convinced that the trials deserves a similar marketing technique. Instead of using some no name Runner's World model, put up a picture of Ryan Hall crossing the line in Houston, Meb with his silver medal, or Abdi licking a sneaker. Maybe even put their names and some information about them underneath their pictures. Then, some people might actually know some names of the guys running in the race on Saturday, which is usually a prerequisite to cheering for them.

Of course, simply creating a different print ad is not going to make drastic changes, but this principle can very easily be extended to other ways usatf and big events like the NYC marathon can promote the sport. The USTA, the association that puts on the the aforementioned U.S. Open, is a remarkably conservative and unhip organization, but they successfully market their events and players as the opposite, which is to say young, exciting, and fashionable.

One of the first things that can be done to generate excitement is to promote the individuals and give them a personality or, rather, to give them a chance to let their personalities shine through. Well, there are some cases where we should probably just give them one (Anday Rownbay).

Either way, give people a chance to learn the differences between runners and then let them choose sides. Whether they love or hate how cocky one runner is or how humble another runner is, they at least have some sort of preference to the outcome of the race. Every type of contest is more exciting if you care who wins or loses.

For instance, I only like watching soccer during the World Cup because I want the U.S. to do well. Other times, the sport is rather dull. I also only like watching fights when I want someone to get beat on real bad. This is the principle that needs to be used to market the sport. We have to get some runners to be hated and others loved. (by the way, I was just making that one part up to make a point...I really like to watch all fights, especially in public places.)

I realize that I have slowly rolled away from my original point about the ad. Basically, distance running is an individual sport. The individuals need to be at least recognized before anyone cares if they do well or not. A print ad hanging up all around the city would be a significant step in that direction.


Jeremy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeremy said...

For what it's worth, I think the design idea of dual torches is actually pretty clever. Especially since NYRR can promote BOTH races on ONE poster, while using the design concept to try to directly circumvent one of our main fears: that the average New Yorker won't even know the Trials are a different race.

That said, the design DOES perpetuate the anonymity of US distance runners. At its worst, it almost implicitly suggests, in a way, that the guys in the Trials AREN'T stars. "That guy you see jogging around Central Park everyday? Yeah, the field at the Trials is just an assembly of average, faceless guys like him who jog around various parks across the country." If people are allowed to think that's the case, why WOULD they come watch distance running events?