That's the one whereby a whom the sport has made a multi-millionaire turns around and trashes it and offers no constructive criticism at all. Of course, given the source of Michael Johnson quotes, not surprisingly his commentary would take on a tabloidy edge.
He might bitch, and be a complete JA, but he is 100% right. The tone of the way they speak about athletes (Marion, etc) like they are children and the miniscule prize monies allocated are frankly a joke. Barry Bonds makes more in a month than Marion made all last season in prize money. Where does all the money go????
In round numbers, and recognizing that each has a supporting cast responsible for the crowd, on average 40,000 people come out to see Barry Bonds 162 times a year; 10,000 come out to see Marion 15 times.
Total spectators: Barry 6,480,000; Marion 150,000. I'm all for gender equity, but somehow I have trouble thinking their recompense should be equal. And we won't even discuss radio/TV aspect.
The IAAF, needless to say, didn't just sit back and let MJ take free swings. The organization penned a letter to the editor of The Telegraph, and was kind enough to share it with us. Here it is:
In your 5 May edition, Michael Johnson showed all the combativity that made
him one of the legends of the sport. However, I believe it is my duty to
counter some of his arguments regarding promotion, or non-promotion, of
First and foremost, on what criteria does Michael base his assumption that
"Athletics, the sport I love, is struggling once again and, over the past
several years, has continued to be in steady decline."
Really? The fact is that the IAAF is in better financial shape than at any
time in our 90 year-old history. What Michael is probably not aware of is
the fact that in 1971, the annual income of the IAAF was approximately
$50,000. The entire organisation and development of the sport was financed
with this income.
The fact that Michael Johnson is a millionaire in a sport in which he is
virtually unknown in his own country suggests that the IAAF has done
something right. Prize money alone for athletes - from IAAF coffers - is
$14,939,000. On top of this money, around $9,000,000 is spenf developing the
sport amongst the 210 Member Federations around the world. This money, in
the end, also benefits athletes since it is used to improve infrastructure
and facilities, train coaches and officials and fund competitions and travel
Michael Johnson's comment that "In the United States, which is one of the
most important markets in the world, athletics consistently ranks behind
sports that pale in comparison when it comes to excitement, action, and
competition," is true and this regrettable state of affairs is something
that the American Federation and IAAF is aware of and working on a daily
basis to redress. But ironically, rebuilding the sport in the USA would be
so much easier if athletes like Michael Johnson and Carl Lewis supported
promotional efforts, yet neither of them are currently involved in any
promotional inititiative with the American federation. or with the IAAF come
As for the comments about the IAAF sponsor TDK and why athletes had to wear
their bibs on the podium, well with all due respect to Michael, as a
Marketing graduate he should know the answer to that one. TDK, and other
IAAF partners, effectively pay for the athletes' prize money. More to the
point, the $100,000 that Michael Johnson earned as a bonus for breaking the
400m world record at the 1999 World Championships in Seville (on top of the
$60,000 he received for winning the race), was actually paid for by TDK.
As for comments that "there is a secrecy about track athletes' pay that
started in Seventies, when athletes were not allowed to profit from their
athletic talent," I should clarify that there is no secrecy about what the
IAAF pays. We publicise openly all our prize money and the fact that in
2003, athletes who win all 6 events in the IAAF Golden League will receive a
share of a $1 million Jackpot. What we can't know is what our athletes earn
off the track, but if they chose to tell us we would have no problems
publicising that as well.
Michael's comments regarding the pointlessness of having numbers on bibs to
identify athletes is amusing coming from a man who is developing a career as
a TV commentator. There will be about 2000 athletes from close to 200
countries participating at the next IAAF World Championships in Paris. Now
while most TV commentators will probably be able to recognise a Michael
Johnson, or Maurice Greene or Marion Jones on sight, there will be hundreds
of others who will be identified only by those maligned number bibs.
But to conclude, if Michael Johnson is really keen to save the sport he
loves he is free to call the IAAF General Secretary Istvan Gyulai anytime.
Of course MJ is correct at some level, and you have to read between the lines to find his "constructive criticism." Perhaps the question we should be asking, or answering, is "where does the money come from" rather than "where does all the money go." Revenues for modern day sports come two sources: direct spending from fans who attend, and sponsorships (the latter split into the categories of direct athlete (or team), meet, and television).
As a sport, we're good at complaining about the lack of sponsorships, particularly television coverage. We're not good at taking actions that would enhance the sport's appeal to a broader fan base and elevating the entertainment value. Taking a queue from MJ's column, here are my suggestions (some of it obvious and re-stated – and I’m sure too long to hold the interest of most):
1. Focus on the product. The product is the meet and competition, not the athletes themselves.
2. Market the stars, but sell the competition. Track, as with any other sport, has athletes that run the gambit from celebrity to commodity. The life span of the athlete is limited similar to that of other sports -- a few "stars" will last 8-10 years, but most will only compete for one Olympic cycle. Fans come out to see the “stars,” but have always been entertained and brought back by the competition and the general atmosphere. Too often, television ignores the competition.
3. Replicate what works. The entertainment value of the meet and competition will drive the fan interest level and ultimately the sponsorships. Sponsorships are advertising/marketing dollars invested by an entity to attract the fan base to their own products. Leverage the sport’s best assets (e.g., Pre Classic, Olympic Trials, Penn & Drake Relays, Grand Prix), but don’t over expand.
4. Educate the fans. Fans enjoy what they understand, relate to people and events they “know,” and stay involved when they have a vested interest. Teach fans the finer points of each event, become fan-friendly, and find a hook that keeps them coming back.
5. Hand-hold the media. Media coverage responds to fan interest; fans respond to media coverage. It’s a chicken-egg dilemma. Most local media don’t cover track and field at any level because it doesn’t bring advertising revenue, they aren’t knowledgeable in the nuances of the sport, and fans don’t demand it. The sport needs an ombudsman in each target market to serve as a media and community liaison to promote the sport at a local level – to include high school, college, and professional track.
6. Follow the money. Individual sports like golf, tennis, and auto racing put a spotlight on annual and career winnings – as a benchmark of success. The “average” sports fan relates to this, whether we like it or not.
7. Teams create relationships; individuals create a following. Tiger Woods notwithstanding, fans get behind a team regardless of who’s on it. Players attract a following for a subset within the sport. For track and field, it’s Team USA at the pro level, and then a college or high school at the amateur level. Under the umbrella of Team USA, there’s room for a competitive club program with an emphasis on competition, not just a training center. Why shouldn’t there be a “draft” of athletes who want to continue their career instead of fickle shoe company contracts. In the end, expand the market rather than fight for share.
8. History matters. T&F has a rich history beyond its Olympic legends, including individual rivalries, and competition ranging from intercollegiate to inter-country. Where’s the ESPN Classic version of those USA-USSR dual meets, the Dream Mile, the Toyko long jump dual, and so on and on? Where’s Ken Burns’ 12-part documentary spotlighting each event? Knowledge of the past creates an appreciation of the present and an interest in the future.
9. Records and statistics should enhance the sport, not dominate it. Not even baseball fans rival track fans in the statistical department – but no other sport puts such a caveat on its feats, nor relies so heavily on it for media coverage. (How many “wind aided” or “altitude adjusted” homeruns has Barry Bonds hit? How many records were set last year’s Super Bowl?)
10. Align the agenda of the fans, the athletes, the administrators, and the sponsors. The sport caters to insiders and administrators whose agenda conflict with fan interest and athletes. (How else can you explain preferential seating for the World Championships or Olympic Games?). Align the salary, benefits, and perks received by the insiders (e.g., IAAF, USOC) to coincide with an increase in participation, fan interest, media coverage, and sponsorship that promotes and elevates the sport rather than diminishes its appeal.
And we haven’t even addressed the drug issues, the equipment potential, or so many other obvious opportunities. With regard to the IAAF’s “reply,” it is unfortunate that “stars” such as Johnson and Lewis aren’t actively involved in promoting the sport, and that the IAAF feels compelled to defend the few charges that MJ levied. But wouldn’t you love to see them as a team owner, a highly visible coach, or hosting a daily Track & Field Channel show rather than participating in the in-fighting with which we’ve become so familiar?
MJ has reason to be upset. From where he's standing, he has trained as hard as a Barry Bonds, he made performances as unique and incredible as a Barry Bonds', and he risked injury at perhaps a greater rate than Barry Bonds (or ___ athlete of the MLB,NBA,NFL). Yet he was paid pennies on the dollar in compensation. While the 400m record may have been worth $100,000 from TDK, 73 home runs was probably worth many millions.
Of course the disparity comes from fan interest in the separate sports, as a previous poster mentioned. But there may be some validity to MJ's point of mismarketing the sport. He spews the complaints without any suggestions, but there is something missing in somebody's approach.
Freedom of athlete sponsorship and strong-arming TV and Radio networks for prime airtime would be good starters in my opinion. Maybe the IAAF could pay elites to occasionally do exhibition races at small grassroots venues(i.e. Penn Relays>Mt. Sac.>or smaller) to generate interest at the local level.
>That's not even a sneeze. MJ was right
>on the money with his piece.
Michael was better at letting his running speak for him as an athlete and nothing's changed. Obviously he thinks of himself as some sought of "track gadfly", rustling feathers. He did little if anything to promote track as an athlete, unless you are of the mind that promoting Michael was enough. Michael doesn't understand that to be a "personality" you have to have a personality. His little rant smacks more of self-promotion then as an honest attempt to address problems.People on the "net" love to trash Carol Lewis and her TV gaffs, yet Michael is just as un-inciteful and makes as many mistakes and get a "pass". Why? Cause he's a world recordholder?
even though johnson is 100 % right about his comment about baseball he has done nothing to promote the sport since his retirement. Like Lewis he has taken jabs at officials and some of the top athletes like maurice greene and tim motgomery (the same way lewis went after him in the mid 90s). Unfortunately the egos of some stars are as big as the number of events in the sport (i think 48 at this point)