Thursday, June 22, 2006
72 Skaters Online
Staff— Special Report, RRN
Monday, March 24, 2003
Recreational Marathoners lead the Pack
Is inline racing a something you watch, a spectator sport, or is it something you do, a participatory sport? Is the inline fan a couch potato or a recreational marathoner? While the hard-core speedskater enjoys watching a good race, it won't be soon that inlining will draw greater numbers watching the race than the number actually skating the race.
Maybe in 2008 or 2012 we will be able to watch inline speedskating during the summer Olympics. Until then competition for audience share in the USA is tough when you consider the popular spectator sports of football, basketball, baseball, NASCAR and women's pro beach volleyball. No one seems ready to step forward with the substantial and risky investment to produce and package inline racing for television. Better to let several thousand people finance the sport by investing $70 each- an investment also known as an entry fee. Let the fan be the show.
The foreseeable future of inlining is as a participatory sport. So, what is the best way to build participation, run successful events and leave the skater looking for the next event?
Marathons are seen as the best hope to increase the participation in inline events. Both the USA based IISA and the European based WIC organizations have staked out emphatic positions on the marathon concept. However, these two powerful organizations differ on the best way to bring the marathon concept to the skater, how the events should be organized and the role of the spectator in the sport of inline skating.
The WIC states clearly that inline "only has a chance to grow if it can develop individually and not as a side event of other sports". "Therefore, independent inline events are very important for the development of our sport in the future." Of course, WIC has been running the European based Inline World Cup/Grand Prix series for several years and most of the events have piggybacked on existing running marathon events. The IISA may now be where the WIC was several years ago- looking for established events where inlining can be added, along with any opportunity to establish independent inline events.
Quality events require quality courses and professional organization. Serious financial sponsorship commitments require a well-defined and sizable target audience for the sponsor to pursue. Lacking a risk-taker with deep pockets the only way to build to more quality events is to partner with established events.
Having good quality events that are conveniently located enables an active athlete to choose to make inline racing a viable choice- a lifestyle choice. This is when inline racing achieves the "critical mass" that brings it into the mainstream in the same way that the sport of running is established.
The focus on participation is all about economics, of course. Let's look at the breakdown of the entrants for the Northshore Inline Marathon. Pro category skaters make up 6%, that's 271 out of 4,384. Advanced skaters comprise about 10% (449) and the remaining 84% of the entrants are in the fitness and recreation categories. That 84% is 3,664 of the 4,384 skaters in the 2002 Northshore Marathon. Those fitness and recreational skaters brought in entry fees of $219,840 versus $16,260 for the pro category skaters (based on an average $60 entry fee). You are not going to close down 26 miles of streets and pay a cash purse based on $16,260 in entry fees, are you? Have you hugged a rec skater today?
Now, all those rec skaters need equipment. The more you stick with your training program to get your personal best for the local marathon the more those wheels and skates need to be replaced. New skates, wheels, bearings are needed as you progress up from recreational to advanced and maybe to pro category.
The goal of the IISA seems to be that within a few years there will be a Northshore every week somewhere in the USA or Canada during the outdoor season. Every major city has at least one major running marathon per year. Finally, the skating industry leaders are joining forces to take advantage of these opportunities.
The success of these efforts will mean more races, better races, better equipment, more awards, expansion of the pro ranks, better sponsorship opportunities for local amateur teams and more fun.
Right about now you are thinking, "Hey, I want more races, better races, better equipment, more sponsorship and more fun-what can I do to make this happen?"
The New Americas Cup
Many separate events will make for a full race schedule. In 2004 we might see 20 or 30 major North American inline marathons. Given that selection to choose from who will take charge and organize this into a professional level series? Will someone take charge and bring us the "2005 Coca-Cola Inline Marathon Cup"?
Inline skaters know they have a great sport. Our top athletes are choosing other sports, even ice speedskating, because inline has never been able to make it to the next level and been able to provide robust professional skating opportunities. How many times have you heard it asked why professional skateboarders and aggressive skaters came from nowhere a decade ago to having professional tours where the athletes make six-figure salaries?
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