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THE RUNNING FEUD . . . : Effort Fails to Merge Competing Marathons

May 10, 1987|CHRIS COBBS | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — After winning last year's Holiday Bowl Heart of San Diego Marathon, Thom Hunt discovered what it's like to be a sports celebrity.

"I was amazed at all the people who came up to me and said they watched the race on TV," said Hunt, 29, of Pacific Beach. "I usually hear from other runners after a race, but average sports fans don't pay much attention until there is a lot of TV and press coverage."

In a city devoted to outdoor recreation, runners tend to blend into the scenery.

Although San Diego is not likely to challenge the nation's most famous marathons, staged in Boston and New York, the city could be on the brink of moving up to the second tier of marathons, according to Hunt.

Then again, it could wind up with two minor league events.

The problem is feuding among local promoters and an interested charity that threatens to leave the city with dueling marathons rather than one unified race attracting top competition and coverage.

Efforts to bring about a merger of the Mission Bay and Holiday Bowl Heart of San Diego marathons--which traditionally have been staged six weeks apart--have failed.

"If there is not some cooperation," Hunt said, "it could all go down the tubes, and it will take many years of somebody pushing hard to get it regenerated. We could wind up with two lousy marathons if people don't put aside their egos and promote a marathon together."

The city is faced with the prospect of races held on consecutive weekends in December, which would dilute the field of both races and impose a financial hardship on the city's special events department.

The contestants in this battle of marathons include the Holiday Bowl, the San Diego Track Club, the San Diego Heart Assn. and a race management group, In-Motion.

At issue is who would control and manage a united San Diego marathon, but there are philosophical differences as well.

The goal of the Heart Assn. is to raise money to support research to combat heart disease and educate youngsters on the dangers of smoking.

The Holiday Bowl wants to produce a world-class race that can, together with its annual football game, help promote the image of San Diego.

The interests of the two groups may not be incompatible, as recent history suggests, but there is a difference of opinion on how to meet the needs of everyone, including the local running community.

The Heart Assn. has staged a marathon for the past decade, and in the past two years has teamed with the Holiday Bowl, which has subcontracted with In-Motion to promote and manage the race.

The Heart Assn., which lost approximately $40,000 on the 1984 race (the figure includes the value of volunteers' time), realized a profit of nearly $10,000 last year through its tie-in with the Holiday Bowl.

Now, though, the Heart Assn. has formed a new alliance with the Track Club, which for 23 years has sponsored the Mission Bay Marathon. The Track Club has offered to pay the Heart Assn. 50% of money received from entry fees, an arrangement that would have generated $43,000 had it been in effect in last January's race.

The Heart Assn. and Track Club linked up after negotiations with the Holiday Bowl to produce a merger ended bitterly. The Holiday Bowl had guaranteed revenue of $20,000 to the Heart Assn. from the 1987 race.

Sidney Smith, president of the Heart Assn., said late last week he would like to resolve the dispute and stage a single race.

Less optimistic about a settlement were John Reid, executive director of the Holiday Bowl, and Keith Jeffers, Track Club president.

"We want to go after corporate dollars to help sponsor the race and attract elite runners," Reid said. "The Track Club is a purist organization and seems to have trouble coming to grips with our ideas. We feel we have demonstrated our ability to stage a first-class event, but our vision of the marathon is in jeopardy."

A key issue is the involvement of In-Motion as a coordinator and promoter of the race.

In-Motion was paid $48,000 by the Holiday Bowl to manage the 1986 race, and Reid said he was completely satisfied with the group's work. Lynn Flanagan, co-owner of the San Diego-based company, said In-Motion lost $5,000 on the 1986 Holiday Bowl Heart of San Diego Marathon.

The Heart Assn., however, was concerned that the money paid to In-Motion was nearly five times the amount it received from the Holiday Bowl.

The Heart Assn., after deciding that it no longer wanted a relationship with In-Motion, turned to the San Diego Track Club as a partner.

That was a mistake, according to one of the Heart Assn. volunteers who negotiated with the Holiday Bowl for a new contract.

"The Holiday Bowl was 100% dedicated and fair to us," said the Heart Assn. volunteer, who requested anonymity. "They listened to us and tried to accommodate us. I feel the wrong decision was reached. No one is going to win in this situation. Money is an important consideration, but so is community good will."

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