Everyone is so concerned with putting on good track meets to entertain the fans, but what do the athletes want? Maybe we have needs too! There are details big and small that the participants take note of when attending a race that could determine whether or not they come back in the future. And perhaps with more implication, what spreads to the fellow athlete friends!
Ever since I started directing a meet of my own (this article is just a shameless plug for the HOKA One One Long Island Mile) my perspective has shifted a bit when tending to the needs of others. I take notice of things that I previously overlooked and also theorize the cost-benefit analysis of each expense. Bells and whistles are nice but we can’t lose sight of the most important thing that athletes want, to feel like a bunch of princesses. And if we run fast and make some money as well, then that’s also great.
In no order of importance, here are some things that make a track meet great to attend as a competitor:
Most contracted athletes have a budget allotting them a chunk of money to pay for travel expenses. We buy flights and a hotel room and then we submit an invoice to be reimbursed by our shoe sponsor. However, these aren’t limitless and I would say most athletes consciously do their best to save and negotiate expenses, otherwise you’ll be paying for it later. Obviously the most ideal situation is a meet that takes care of everything so you don’t have to tap into the travel budget at all. And any help is appreciated and goes a long way. If you don’t have a big contract, this becomes everything in choosing races.
Some meets with a smaller budget will use host families. I have stayed with some amazing people (s/o to the Derbyshire family down at Sir Walter!) and I’ve returned to the meet in large part because I love staying at their respective homes so much. Last year at Falmouth, the NJ*NY boys were hosted by former famed Boston Bruin bruiser, Jay Miller, who dropped us off at the road race with his boat and he conveniently owned a bar where the after party was held. He wasn’t originally going to come to the race and then we told him we would go 1-2-3-4 if he did. By some miracle, we nailed the quadfecta box.
Travel and Logistics
This goes hand in hand with the expenses, but where the meet is being held is a huge part of convenience. If I live in New York and can drive to your meet within a few hours, then that saves me time and money. Is your meet on the other side of the country in some remote Oregon “city” during the peak of allergy season? I regret not buying a timeshare there in 2010.
Going somewhere new and unique is a huge intrigue. I ran the Great Edinburgh XC race this year and it was an honor to wear the Team USA uniform again but part of me also wanted to go to Scotland and explore a new country. It ended up being a great time and something I’d like to do annually. If I can combine life experience with my job, then I will do my best to take advantage of this bizarre work situation.
Having someone pick you up at the airport, especially in a country where you don’t speak the language will make life easier. Being stranded in an airport for a couple hours with no address because the meet director never sent you any information…not great! Sad!
Fans and Exposure
Professional athletes, even in track and field, can have some pretty big egos and want to be made to feel special. This is where fan engagement comes in. It makes my head so inflated to cross the finish line and spend 30 minutes signing autographs and taking pictures. The race becomes more exciting and can really get the adrenaline pumping when fans are screaming for you to kiss their babies. What makes a better Instagram pic than running through a tunnel of high school kids SnapChatting? A totally different scene than Roger Bannister’s tunnel of fans.
Athletes want to be seen. Both for their self-esteem and for their sponsors who are paying them to be seen in their gear. Having media at the meet is a big part of this since it creates a platform to display the company logo. The visibility also adds to the prestige of the meet and therefore your being there means something.
A meet being on TV is the best-case scenario for achieving these goals. Next would be a free stream online (thank you RunnerSpace), and then last, but better than nothing, a paid stream. Parents want to watch their little babies run, and making the race accessible is a nice bonus.
Hate to think like this, but at the end of the day, I am going to meets to pay the bills (and to max out my Roth IRA). Getting an appearance fee is the greatest thing in the world. No matter what, I get paid? Imagine that! It’s amazing what free money can do to make you have positive connotations with a specific meet. Per diem and free meals also means more money in my pocket.
The cash prize is then something that every pro will glance at before the race starts, but try not to think about. It can also greatly influence how a race plays out. If the whole purse is only going to a couple people, then you’ll see a safer strategy employed by most in the field. Whereas, if a race pays eight deep, like at the Long Island Mile, then people are more willing to take chances because they will likely still get some paper if it doesn’t work out. And finally, something that many fans are unaware of is how lucrative time bonuses in contracts can be. That means fast races can pay very well, even if the fans don’t realize it. Therefore, a capable rabbit that the athletes know and trust can be a worthy expenditure.
How fast we get that money is also a factor. Waiting for drug test results to come back is an understandable delay on payment. Eight months and three invoices later is not. A meet that settles the bill at the after party is a dream come true.
This depends on the time of year. But singing karaoke at Coogan’s and then The Dead Poet makes for a great night.