Tuesday, February 5, 2008

"Thumbs Down to New Yorkers?" A Rant

If you had told me that the same company produces the Millrose Games and the annual Rbk Grand Prix, I would have punched you in the scroach and called you a liar.

In their Week in Review, Letsrun.com gave New Yorkers a thumbs-down for not attending Millrose, something to which I take exception. With all due respect to the opinions of the BroJos and to Global Athletics itself, the company which has kept Millrose afloat - a decision which is somewhat noble, because at NY prices, I expect that it really doesn't make much sense from a dollars and cents perspective... but Millrose has been boring as shit for the past couple of years. I nearly skipped it this year because each time I've gone, it's four hours of sitting there, and about 25 minutes of excitement.

Let's be honest. There is no need for all of the bullshit that pads this meet. Who, apart from families, friends, and teammates, wants to see HS event after HS event? When was the last time you went to an MLB game and, around the 3rd inning, thought to yourself, Man, this is great and all, but what I could really go for right now is an inning or two of Little League. Why does attendance at Millrose suck? Because it's a weird hybrid of an event, that doesn't REALLY appeal to any demographic.

I recognize that you want to have high school events because entire HS teams and those parents and families will turn out to watch their kids run. But there are more scholastic events than there are professional events at Millrose. This year, the first 80 minutes on the track were non-professional and/or race-walk events (read as: if they're professional, they shouldn't be). Then, 7 minutes for the Women's 600. A couple scholastic events. Men's 600. College relay. Women's Mile. A couple college events. You get the picture.

Not counting the field events (since they can go on concurrently) out of a 5-hour-long event, a total of 97 minutes were scheduled for professional events. And that includes the 40 set aside for the Shot. Is Millrose a professional meet or not? Well, it's hard to tell. And if it's hard to tell, you can bet the average New Yorker isn't going to waste its time on something that might not be the best a sport has to offer.

I'd suggest the following revised schedule for the meet, moving forward:
Men's Professional 2-mile
NYC 4 x 400 Championship: SHU, Rutgers, Columbia, etc.
Women's Professional Mile
600yd Dash - Men's & Women's
Elite College 4 x 800: Arkansas, Georgetown, Villanova, et al.
Boy's HS Mile
Pole Vault: Men's
60m: Pro Men's, Pro Women's, Kids
Shot Put
HS 4 x 800
The High Jumps and the Women's Pole Vault are ongoing to fill break between running events. The Men's Pole Vault takes center-stage before the dashes while they remove the curve. The Shot Put, after, while they re-install. That is a nice, tight schedule that involves the local/regional high school athlete, but still puts the professional athlete center-stage. This is important. I can go see a high school or college any weekend I want to. Why would I go to Millrose? To see the pros.

But the biggest stumbling block, at least in this year, was the lack of marketing. Millrose always gets a ton of play within the running community, thanks to the posters hung at the Armory, guaranteeing that they will get seen by pretty much every college runner who lives within a 100 mile radius. But marketing to the general population? Zilch. I didn't see a gall-darned thing out around the city. Nothing. The general public in New York could not have known Millrose was going on, and frankly, at that point, Millrose ceases to be an "event" at all. It's just another track meet attended by family, friends, and a few diehard fans, though, in this case, one that happens to be in a big arena, with some professionals and some TV coverage. New Yorkers didn't know about Millrose. Period. Whose fault is that?

I genuinely believe that New Yorkers would come to Millrose if they knew about it. How many thousands of people line the streets for the NYC marathon? And, I can tell you one thing: they aren't just there to see a handful of their co-workers/friends for the 3 seconds in which they will be passing by. They are there to be part of the spectacle, to be around the energy. I think many of them would come to Millrose for $15 a pop, if the action was near constant, they could follow the competition on the scoreboards, and, oh yeah, IF THEY KNEW THE MEET WAS TAKING PLACE.

(Returning to the length issue for a moment, if any "civilians" have been duped into attending Millrose recently, I have to imagine they didn't come back for seconds, and they didn't tell their friends You gotta check this out! After all, what other mainstream professional sporting event lasts for 5 hours? Why would the casual fan even want to spend 4+ hours on a sport in which they are only occasionally interested?)

There are plenty of other issues - for instance, The Garden's beautiful 16x9 HD video boards aren't utilized to show race-closeups, or pre-race interviews to build hype in the upcoming event. And The Garden is totally complicit in the lack of general promotion, as its current regime of management/ownership seems content to simply use the Garden as a rental facility, rather than taking pride and an active role in keeping the events held therein, totally first-class. (I believe the term for that is Resting on One's Laurels, and it is generally considered to be a bad business strategy.)

In contrast, Global Athletics' Rbk Grand Prix clips along well. In years past, has done a pretty good job of using Lewis Johnson to entertain in the gaps between events. Gets people to come out to the hardest place to get to in all of New York City. Global Athletics has often done a great job of booking athletes that they know will mobilize loyal ethnic communities: Ethiopians (Bekele at Millrose) and Jamaicans (any of their stars, any time). For this year's entry in the Millrose annals, that wasn't or couldn't be done, and attendance was several hundred lighter than it could have been, with the atmosphere also suffering from the absence of a flag-waving, chant-carrying wedge of very vocal spectators. I'm not implying they didn't try, but maybe that such an attraction should be an at-all-costs booking from event to event, year to year.

I know Global Athletics has it in them to produce a great event because they have done it before. Their ability to promote might still be scrutinized, but success in any form of business begins and ends with the quality of your product. It's just that Millrose desperately needs some work in R & D.

No comments: