The decision by the Competitor Group, Inc. to withdraw elite funding is unfortunate and a big blow to the professional running scene here in the States. Nevertheless, their races will continue to be a place for elites to connect with runners. Granted, their events become less a sporting event and more a community one but the Rock ‘n’ Roll Series will still be a stage for elites with sponsorship ties to interact, share training tips and dialog with the masses. I am personally aware of some of CGI’s plans to reinvest in the sport and find new ways of bringing elites together with runners.
In my opinion, this should serve as a wake up call for elites. We need to do more than just run races to bring value, real, bottom line value, to those who support us. It would be nice if we were in a sport where the marketing machine would promote us but that simply is not the case. Only a select few can afford to simply train in the mountains, come down twice a year to race and manage to survive in our sport.
A conversation I had some 13 years ago shifted my paradigm. It was early November 2000; I walked into my dad’s office on a Saturday where he was working away. I wanted his input on several contract negotiations I had recently started. I was fresh off a 2:13, 10th place performance at the Chicago Marathon and talks with corporate America were heating up. My dad was a smart man, he had success at Lincoln Financial Group in Florida, and in the fall of 1975, as a 29 year old, they offered him a promotion to be president of their San Diego office, their worst performing office in the nation. He jumped at the opportunity. In 1977 he and the team he assembled won the President’s Cup, Lincoln’s annual award presented to the top performing office in the United States (based on total sales, profitability, percentage of increase over goals and average manpower production). A former Virginia State wrestling champion and member of Michigan State’s NCAA Championship team, he understood my passion for sport. He had made millions and had an understanding of marketing, finance, budgets and business that I had yet to fully grasp. All that to say: I respected his opinion and coveted his advice. I brought him up to speed on my situation; he took notes on his yellow pad. When I finished, he asked a very simple question, “Josh, what’s your job?”
“To win races,” I replied, sure that I nailed it.
“No, that’s not it.”
“No, dad. Actually it is.”
He smiled, removed his glasses and put his pen down. “Well, that’s part of it, performance is the cornerstone, but to the decision makers, the ones controlling the budget, your job is to sell product. They’re not sponsoring you for the love of the sport or because you’re a likeable guy, they’re sponsoring you to improve their bottom line.”
My dad understood this because during his stint with Lincoln he had 45 agents, 30 brokers and 27 administrative assistants beneath him and was faced with similar budget decisions.
I took his words to heart and have never viewed the sport the same.
I admit, I have a tough time delegating anything; I prefer to do it all myself. I loved soccer but couldn’t ensure that the other guys on the team were working as hard as me.
With running—and life—how well you perform is based on how well you prepare.
My advice to those wanting to be successful in running, or in any other arena, don’t sit back and hope good things happen. Running is the largest participatory sport in America, reach out and become a resource to those who need it. Don’t sit back and hope a race or sponsor is promoting you. Be proactive in marketing yourself; make an effort to bridge the massive chasm that exists between the pro and the everyday runner. Social Media and events like the Rock ‘n’ Roll Series afford us this opportunity. Sign autographs after races, stay at sponsor appearances the extra 15 minutes, reply to those who ask you questions on Twitter and Facebook.
There is a vast difference between being a sponsored athlete and a brand ambassador. Be both.
Life doesn’t reward hoping and wishing, life rewards action. Help yourself. Don’t be outworked.
Ask, “How can I best serve my community? How can I best serve my sponsors?” and deliver on those questions. Some will call it self-promotion, I call it good business for all parties involved.
The Competitor Group’s decision will undoubtedly result in less sports page headlines on race weekends but they’re wagering they will come out ahead. It’s glaringly obvious that we as pros haven’t shown our value to some of the top decision makers in our sport. We don’t want this to become a trend; it’s up to us to do better. It’s up to us to not only use our legs but to use our heads in finding better ways to show that value.
UPDATE: January 22, 2014 CGI Says It Will Reinstate Appearance Fees for Top Racers | NY Times