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McCourts' settlement also could affect Los Angeles Marathon

The race is owned by Frank McCourt, who has yet to divide assets with ex-wife Jamie McCourt. If Dodgers are put up for sale, the marathon could be too.

June 08, 2011|By Bill Shaikin
  • Dodgers and Los Angeles Marathon owner Frank McCourt meets with competitors prior to the start of the 2010 L.A. Marathon. McCourt's ownership of the annual race could be in jeopardy if the Dodgers are put up for sale.
Dodgers and Los Angeles Marathon owner Frank McCourt meets with competitors… (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)

The Dodgers are not the only Los Angeles sports institution facing an uncertain future because of the protracted divorce proceedings between Frank and Jamie McCourt.

Frank McCourt also owns the Los Angeles Marathon.

The McCourts are divorced but have not settled on how to divide their assets. In the meantime, Major League Baseball has taken over the day-to-day operation of the Dodgers and is investigating the finances of the team "and related entities," including the marathon.

Frank McCourt is struggling to meet the Dodgers' payroll, and if the Dodgers are put up for sale — whether by McCourt, the divorce judge or MLB — the marathon could be too.

Employees responsible for corporate sponsorships and creative services were let go after the most recent marathon in March, sparking speculation within the running community that McCourt's financial troubles had affected the race. Nick Curl, the marathon's director and chief operating officer, said those positions would be filled.

The marathon came close to breaking even this year, on about $5 million in revenues, Curl said. The Dodgers had $286 million in revenues and $8 million in profit in 2009, the most recent year included in financial records filed in divorce court.

After McCourt bought the marathon three years ago, he changed the race from a Sunday in March to Memorial Day, at the request of city and church leaders. After one year — and a 17% drop in runners — McCourt returned the marathon to March, and to Sunday.

The annual amount generated for charity has jumped from $1 million to $3 million since McCourt bought the race, Curl said.

"We want to see it at $10 million," he said. "That comes straight from the owner."

McCourt put a signature on the race with a new downhill course, starting at Dodger Stadium and ending at the Pacific Ocean, more conducive to fast times and more welcoming to spectators than previous courses.

In 2010, the first year of the new course, there were a race-record 26,054 entrants, the fourth-largest field for a United States marathon last year, behind New York, Chicago and Boston.

This year's marathon was hampered by a driving rainstorm, but Markos Geneti of Ethiopia set a race record of 2 hours 6 minutes 35 seconds.

The race, a legacy of the 1984 Olympic Games, once branded itself as "The People's Marathon," more of a rolling street party than a top-level competitive event. It has grown into one of the world's largest marathons without attracting significant participation from elite runners or out-of-town runners.

"In the running industry, the L.A. Marathon is a major event but a minor marathon," said Toni Reavis, the television analyst for all 26 editions of the race. "Boston, Chicago, New York — those are world-class marathons."

A race generally cannot attract significant numbers of elite runners without spending millions in appearance fees and prize money.

The New York Marathon budgeted between $2.5 million and $3 million toward those costs last year, according to the New York Times, accounting for about 10% of the race budget. That would represent more than half the budget of the Los Angeles race.

With the promise of outstanding times on a faster course, the L.A. Marathon appears to be well-positioned to lure the world's best runners if the budget could be increased.

"The elite athletes are part and parcel of our plan for success," Curl said.

Tracy Sundlun, a founder of San Diego's Rock 'n' Roll Marathon, called L.A.'s race "a diamond in the rough."

"It has been a significant running event for more than 20 years, and yet it is still an event in transition," he added. "There will always be great potential, because it's L.A. They've been trying to find the right formula for a number of years.

"When they do, it will be a home run."

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

twitter.com/BillShaikin

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