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Carlsbad’s Willie Banks Offers ‘Bold’ Cure for Track and Field’s ‘Dinosaur’ Status

Olympian Willie Banks, shown at an ANOC World World Beach Games promotion, thinks marketing by private groups separate from the sport
Share This Article:Olympian Willie Banks, shown at an ANOC World World Beach Games promotion, thinks marketing by private groups separate from the sport's governing body can revive the popularity of track and field. Olympian Willie Banks, proven at an ANOC World World Seashore Video games promotion, thinks advertising by personal teams separate from the game’s governing physique can revive the recognition of monitor and subject. Photograph by Ken Stone

Six years in the past, Willie Banks went to the CEO of USA Track & Subject with an concept: Why can’t monitor emulate the “three-letter” sports activities — separating the “marketing” arms from the governing our bodies?

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Olympian Banks, the Carlsbad resident just lately elected to be America’s nomination to the highly effective IAAF Council, stated CEO Max Siegel “pooh-poohed” his plan.

“The fear is that some people will lose power,” Banks stated in a current interview. “Well, who cares if you lose power if it brings more attention and more money and resources into the sport? The high tide raises all the boats, not just one.”

Now Banks is re-energizing a debate happening for many years.

In Might 1991, Track & Area Information summarized the difficulty with the headline: “What if They Gave a Track Meet and Nobody Came?” That cowl story had an image of an empty Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, website of two Olympic Video games.

The 62-year-old former triple leap record-holder thinks monitor can regain the recognition of its glory days when miler Jim Ryun was on the duvet of Sports activities Illustrated and USA vs. USSR twin meets packed stadiums.

“If you think about all the successful sports in the United States, they are run not by governing bodies,” Banks stated. “They are run by promotion arms of those governing bodies — the NBA, the NHL,” and so on.

Such leagues market their sport, whereas entities resembling USA Basketball keep of their governing lanes.

“The amount of money that’s being raised by those promotion-marketing arms are like oceans compared to … the monies USA Basketball could raise, right?” he stated. “We need to do the same thing.”

The truth is, Banks says, monitor has achieved it earlier than.

When Ollan Cassell was USATF government director within the 1980s and 1990s, “he just left long-distance running to itself,” Banks stated. “And now it’s a billion-dollar industry,” citing the key marathons and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Collection.

“Those are all private organizations,” he stated. “In the United States, you need a private organization that wants to make money to take a hold of this. You can’t hold them back.”

Banks asserts that Indianapolis-based USATF (with its $500 million Nike deal) wants to hitch his imaginative and prescient of supporting a personal group “that is going to take our sport and make it something special and not try and control it….. We have to let our sport be open.”

He cites browsing.

“How long has surfing been around? Forever, right?” He says. However the La Jolla-based Worldwide Browsing Federation is “struggling to raise money” whereas the just lately launched World Surf League is earning profits “hand over fist, and they control their athletes. The ISA has no control over the athletes.”

“Ownership” of athletes is vital, Banks says.

“You have to own the athletes,” he says — giving the skilled workforce leagues as examples. “It’s as simple as that. You got to pay them. Because otherwise, you’re toast. There has to be some kind of management vs. player relationship.”

Proper now, he says, USASTF distributes cash as grants. (It additionally has a basis.)

“There’s no ownership of the sport,” he stated of monitor athletes. “It’s just everybody for themselves.”

An instance is Usain Bolt, the world’s quickest human. Even in retirement, the Jamaican is the highest-paid athlete on the planet.

“People watched [Bolt] because they wanted to see that guy run,” Banks stated. However his wealth and reputation didn’t enrich monitor in America, “because we’re getting our butt kicked by [that] guy.”

How did American monitor and subject fall from its once-lofty perch?

Banks recollects seeing poker on ESPN, and laughs.

“Poker is a regular show on television. Bowling is a regular show on television. It’s hard to find a track meet on television. To me, something happened.”

That one thing was: “We tried too much control and we lost control,” he stated the day he defeated incumbent Stephanie Hightower as USATF’s delegate to the Worldwide Affiliation of Athletics Federations.

When Banks talked about these concepts on the annual USATF assembly this month in Columbus, Ohio, delegates didn’t actually concentrate on them a lot, he stated.

“But a lot of people have said it’s a bold idea,” he stated. “If we don’t start thinking of bold ideas, we’re going to keep on repackaging the old ideas and wondering why they’re not working,” he stated. “Any idea that raises some interest or get people thinking is a good idea.”

Others are weighing in.

Weldon Johnson, co-founder of, stated he’s happy that Banks was elected, hoping it exhibits that USATF is turning into extra dynamic and democratic.

However whereas he’s “all for the idea” in precept, he has doubts a few personal, for-profit group taking extra management of the game.

“I’m not sure the professional sports leagues in the U.S. are the best model to copy as track and field and road running for that matter are first and foremost individual sports,” Johnson stated.

A greater mannequin to emulate could be golf’s PGA Tour or skilled tennis.

“Neither of those groups has an ownership group in charge,” Johnson stated. “Collectively, the professional athletes in golf and tennis are in charge. Track is unique in that there are athletes competing in different events. Getting them united is a challenge.”

San Diego Track Membership coach Paul Greer, the spark behind the annual “Summer Nights” all-comer meet collection right here, calls himself a supreme optimist and believes its potential for monitor and area “to be one thing particular once more.

He agrees that opening as much as personal teams is an effective strategy to go.

“This will only happen if [those] … in leadership positions within USATF simply humble themselves and work together day by day, step by step for the future,” he stated.

A time existed when monitor was on par with soccer in America, Greer stated, “but the sport of soccer moved ahead of us and track and field did not move with it.”

The temporary quadrennial highlight on Olympic monitor isn’t sufficient, he stated, declaring: “We need to seize that day and take back our sport so it’s in the public eye again.”

It helps that Eugene, Oregon, will host the 2021 IAAF World Championships — the primary time the meet has been held in America.

“The United States is the No. 1 track and field team in the world and the market in the United States is huge,” Banks informed Jeff Hollobaugh in Track & Area Information this week. “Every sport looks to the U.S. as a major area of exploration and growth. I will work to let the IAAF know that USA Track & Field is a great partner and will help make 2021 into something that people will never forget.”

Banks stated this may be a time the place the USA would “finally get an opportunity to show just how important track and field is to our nation.”

However on the Track & Subject Information message board, the place monitor’s declining reputation has been a subject for years, many have been uncertain. One posted a dinosaur picture.

Stated Conor Dary: “The idea someone is going to come out of the woodwork and bring back the glory days is slightly delusional. The old ‘let’s copy what the NBA does’ delusion. … Banks is not off to a great start.”

He additionally scoffed: “Ah, yes, the billionaire who comes along and saves the day. The only one who has shown the slightest interest in the sport is Uncle Phil [Knight, the Nike founder and ex-CEO] and I don’t see him doing it.”

Dary stated he didn’t see a viable market for skilled monitor since New York Metropolis “can’t even support” a Diamond League meet — an IAAF circuit that awards prize cash. “And the greatest indoor meet ever, Millrose, barely exists these days.”

One other commenter stated that if Nike — or an alliance of shoe and gear makers — got here up with progressive concepts, “it would INEVITABLY clash with USATF over ‘the direction of the sport.’ I see no way that the USA version of this sport advances without USATF’s help/vision (preferably from the athletes, NOT the suits).”

Whereas wishing Banks “good luck,” one other commenter stated: “Uncle Phil is as close as we have as a Godfather, and he has done lots. If we could cultivate other such relationships that benefit businesses in our sport, then we’d be onto something.”

A extra related mannequin, stated one, is golf or tennis.

“Tennis … has the USTA (with 400,000 members) as its NGB that runs the U.S. Open but a separate men’s pro circuit (ATP) and women’s pro circuit (WTA),” stated a commenter who goes by halfmiler2.

However MJR posted that solely a “full on team structure” and “normalized” schedule of meets would work — ending with championships “where no other meets happen after them.”

“Rosters, salaries, training camps, coaches for event areas, practice facilities where the whole team works together at the same place,” MJR stated. “You know, like a real professional sport that is organized, not the half-a$$ed, shamateurism that we have going now where only those whose agents have an in w/ meet directors can actually make a living.”

USATF “killed any chance of this happening” 20 years in the past with a collection of Track & Area Affiliation skilled meets, MJR stated, “and has not lifted a finger to help the other instances of real pro track since then.”

MJR stated IAAF is all about energy and status for its personal reps and will do nothing to reduce its “stranglehold on the cash in the sport. The leadership is so entrenched in keeping themselves relevant/paid during the continual demise of the sport, that it won’t ever happen unless both organizations are completely dismantled.”

Banks sees comparable points, noting the success of a circuit the game as soon as had.

“Now it’s been usurped by the IAAF,” he stated. “You’ve got the Diamond League, and the Golden League. These things came out of the private [sector] — but was usurped by the IAAF.”

Garry Hill, longtime editor of T&FN, blames professional “ball sports” for dimming monitor’s star.

Track and subject is as well-liked because it ever was, Hill argues, not needing to quote figures displaying the game has probably the most individuals at the highschool degree.

“But with the expansion of the major ball sports, they’ve simply become more popular and track by comparison loses,” he stated, apologizing for spouting “such heresy.”

“Track’s ‘popularity’ simply filled a void that has been replaced by superior product(s),” Hill stated.’s Johnson, a former elite marathoner referred to as “Wejo,” advised Occasions of San Diego he isn’t positive what the answer is, “but track and field needs more experimentation, more groups willing to take risks.”

He stated athletes want to know that finally they’re the “product with some power.”

“I’m glad Willie Banks is urging new approaches,” Johnson stated.

Carlsbad’s Willie Banks Offers ‘Bold’ Cure for Track and Subject’s ‘Dinosaur’ Status was final modified: December 14th, 2018 by Ken Stone

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