Good Experiment: Tracktown Summer Series

As an experimental scientist, I derive more knowledge and benefit from trying things rather than theorizing about them. Many ideas about “what is needed” in Elite Track and Field (ET&F) tend to be in the theoretical realm. Sadly, they are mostly negative: “that will never work,” “they tried that once; it was a disaster”, “noone cares about ET&F anyway,” etc.

I applaud Tracktown USA for defining a new idea, ostensibly rooted in the concept of teams or franchises, that they feel can provide a better commercial product which may improve the professional business. Even better than having a new idea, they are implementing it on the ground!

Season 2 (maybe the really the first season where this concept has been tried in earnest) will wrap up tonight in New York, at Randall’s Island. This 8PM EDT event ( link  ) will be covered by ESPN. This is tremendous.

The NYC final follows two recent meets (June 29, at Stanford, CA and July 1, at Portland, OR). The series is a small format one: only 11 events (including a 5K road race) are competed, for both men and women. In addition, these few events were distributed evenly between the first two stops. In tonight’s NYC fixture, all events are apparently being contested. So, tonight’s meet will be about 55% of a standard stadium fixture (10 of 18 events for both M and W, excluding the road race) , while the first two stops were each about 28% of a full meeting. Fields are limited: about 8 lanes worth of athletes in running events, and only 4 participants in the field events.

Today, I spoke with one of the Tracktown Summer Series media staff. They were gracious enough to give me a few minutes during a meet day, where they probably had better things to do. Among the points discussed:

  1. Are there written rules, governing the series, that are available for public consumption?  Apparently not. However, I was helped to understand that while athlete participation at the first two meets is not compulsory, all able-body competitors are required to compete in NYC. I may have misunderstood this abit. For example, high jumpers Erik Kynard and Kris Kornegay-Gober did not compete at Stanford. Tonight, they will be replacing teammates that took their places in the first meet.
  2. How is it going this year so far, in general terms? Everyone is ecstatic, I was told.  Gate numbers were 2000 and 1500, respectively, at Stanford and Portland. Moreover, the athletes love the format and  they are thrilled to be able to compete in the US, where less travel is required. The Summer Series team is very hopeful for a great turnout tonight.
  3. What are expected revenues from the meetings? The media representative did not have this information and made it clear that this was generally the type of data that would NOT be discussed by the organization.
  4. Any idea on TV rights fees being paid by ESPN to Tracktown? See answer 3. above.
  5. Do you care to offer any plans for 2018? It seems that tonight’s NYC meet is the focus right now. Contemplation of the future will come in the next few months.
  6.  Target customer: “Joe six-pack” was mentioned!


I appreciate the information and see nothing wrong with holding proprietary details close-to-the-vest, in what is essentially a startup business. I look forward to a date when the Tracktown staff have time for a more extensive discussion, and have enough confidence in their product to be willing to open the hood a bit more.

I do note that most evolved sports are very straightforward with their rules and their financial information. How things work, what athletes are being paid, and what TV rights fees are available is easily found in larger sports (e.g., professional hockey). In fairness to Summer Series, these numbers are probably not yet at a level that disclosure helps anyone. And, as a true startup, being tight with such information is not unusual.

A few data-driven ideas:

Gate receipts from each of the first two stops ($10 per ticket) are circa $15K to $20K. Daily track facility rental fees can run $5K to $10K, and race service providers might charge similar amounts on the free market. The revenue numbers are encouraging. Probably, the physical event can go off more or less as break-even, not even considering extra sponsorship revenues. This is outstanding! Each event discipline does provide about $11K in prize money, at both meets. All told, in the 10 combined events at each stop, about $110K is paid to athletes. Presumably, this is where sponsors and core investors in the Tour step in. Obviously, this is not coming from gate receipts.

Looking at the men’s side only, the average 2017 IAAF ranking of the competitors is 46.33. This would hardly be called an “elite series”. Yet!  The highest-ranked discipline appears to be the Shot Put (Average IAAF ranking of 16). It must also be noted that there are some very highly-ranked male athletes: 5 in the top-10 and 7 among the Top-20 males in their events. This is very nice. However, as this business grows, it will be important to see the bottom of the fields drawing a higher caliber of athlete. An overall 46.33 average ranking indicates that there are a number of non-ranked participants.

I think that the athlete participation rate is impressive: of the 77 (or so) male athletes on this Tour, 71 of them have competed in the first two meets. This is during a period that saw the IAAF Diamond League Paris meet being contested. Whether this came by rule, or by athlete interest, is relatively unimportant. If you are on the Tour, it is simply a good thing for its business that you show up to compete!

As is discussed in detail on this site, it is my opinion that small-format/small-field meets are NOT the way to grow the professional sport. More of everything would be better to the fan. However, I think it is great that Tracktown has come up with a new idea. It is even better that they are implementing it, in the tried-and-true fashion of an experimentalist!

I hope people will watch end enjoy tonight’s meeting in NYC. Bravo to Tracktown!



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