RRW: Rock 'n' Roll Series Eliminates North American Elite Athletes Program
by David Monti
(c) Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
(31-Aug) -- Competitor Group Inc. (CGI), the San Diego-based operator of the
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
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
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
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