Competitor Group Eliminates Support of Elite Athletes in North America

By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2013 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

(31-Aug) -- Competitor Group Inc. (CGI), the San Diego-based operator of the global Rock 'n' Roll Marathon and Half-Marathon series, has eliminated its elite athletes program at North American events with immediate effect.  The series, which boasts 38 stops in North America in 2013, began with just one event, the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in San Diego in 1998.

"Competitor Group have made a strategic business decision to shift resources in the business," began an e-mail from CGI elite athlete coordinator Matt Turnbull to a group of athlete representatives.  "As a consequence the Elite Athlete Program in all North American events has been cancelled with immediate effect."

Race Results Weekly obtained a copy of the e-mail from two different agents, while a third confirmed the program cancellation in a text message calling it, "awful news."

"The sport just seems under economic assault everywhere," wrote the agent who did not want to be identified.

Turnbull, the former elite athletes manager for Nova International, the British organizer of the Great Run series, said that the cancellation included one of CGI's marquis events in the United States, the 36th Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia Half-Marathon scheduled for Sunday, September 15.  That event, which had over 15,000 finishers last year, routinely produced the fastest half-marathon times in North America, including the North American all-comers records for both men and women: 58:46 (Stanley Biwott, Kenya, 2011) and 67:11 (Kim Smith, New Zealand, 2011).

"Obviously my biggest concern is Philadelphia which takes place in just over 2 weeks time," continued Turnbull.  "I'm aware that some of you have already purchased airfares for athletes and these will be reimbursed in full. If your athlete(s) still want to compete for prize money they are welcome to travel and will be looked after accordingly, though any agreed appearance fees unfortunately will not be paid."

CGI is the successor company of Elite Racing, founded in San Diego by Tim Murphy and the late Mike Long in the 1990's.  Elite Racing invented the Rock 'n' Roll race concept in 1997, with the first event, the Suzuki Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in San Diego, held June 21, 1998.  The event generated over 18,000 entries in its first year, and was won by Kenya's Philip Tarus (2:10:42) and Russia's Nadhezda Ilyina (2:34:17).  The winners received $55,000 in cash and merchandise from Suzuki.

From there, the Rock 'n' Roll brand grew steadily, driven by Murphy's proven formula of generating positive economic impact for cities (an independent analysis by a University of San Diego economics professor, Dr. Kokili Doshi, determined that the first event generated a whopping $78.7 million in economic activity).  The series added another marathon in 2000, under the "Country Music" name, in Nashville, Tenn., and a half-marathon in Virginia Beach under the Rock 'n' Roll brand in 2001.  Another marathon and half-marathon was added in Phoenix in 2004; a half-marathon in San Jose, Calif., in 2006; and a marathon and half-marathon in San Antonio, Texas, in 2008.  The events always featured large elite fields and some of the world's best athletes --Deena Kastor, Haile Gebrselassie, Paul Tergat, Duncan Kibet, Fatuma Roba, Edna Kiplagat, and Meb Keflezighi-- all ran in Rock 'n' Roll events.

Long, a former stockbroker whose personal charisma as an athlete recruiter helped the Rock 'n' Roll brand spread, died in July, 2007.  Competitor Group, Inc. was formed at the end of that year by a New York investment fund, Falconhead Capital, which joined Elite's race management business with the owners of "Triathlete" and "Competitor" magazines, eventually adding Inside Communications, publishers of "VeloNews" and "Inside Triathlon."  With Falconhead's money, the series exploded to over 40 stops worldwide.  Falcolnhead sold the company to another investment fund, Calera Capital, in November, 2012.

While elite fields had always been a component the Rock 'n' Roll formula, CGI had tinkered with with that formula several times.  Most recently, prize money had been reduced at most of the events to only a $1000 award for the winners, but races like Philadelphia continued to have stronger prize money and also paid appearance fees (the male and female Philadelphia winners earned $3500, $9500, and $3500, respectively, the last three years).  CGI also made annual deals with well-known athletes like Ryan Hall, Deena Kastor, and Kara Goucher, who appeared at various Rock 'n' Roll events over the last several years.  The status of those arrangements is unknown (Hall is scheduled to run the Rock 'n' Roll San Jose Half-Marathon on October 6, a CGI representative said just last week).

Turnbull, a tireless advocate for professional road running who sometimes lived for months out of a suitcase, was greatly saddened by the new direction his employer was taking.

"Both Tracy Sundlun (the CGI executive vice-president) and I are truly heartbroken that this has occurred and I'd like to thank you all for your support over the years at our races," Turnbull wrote.

Turnbull also said that the elite athletes program at CGI's European events would remain unchanged, led by Portugal's Carlos Moia and Spain's Miguel Mostaza.

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