Monday, May 28, 2012

Rock me

I have yet to run my "hometown" marathon, White Rock, and now it seems I never will, because that name is history.

Last week, the powers that be made the highly questionable decision to drop the name of the city's leading recreational landmark from its premier amateur sports competition. Henceforth, the Dallas White Rock Marathon will officially be known as just the Dallas Marathon, tossing 40 years of brand awareness and growth out the window for... what, exactly?

The spin is that by shedding the perceived provinciality from the name, the Dallas Marathon will be viewed as more of a "world-class" marathon, in line with other races that only use the city's name, such as the world majors in Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London and New York. And with the opening of the downtown Omni and the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge and the impending completion of the Woodall Rodgers deck park, a simple route change isn't enough to open a new chapter of the event.

To paraphrase something Margaret Thatcher once said, if you have to tell people you're a world-class event, you're not. You can't just toss out a press release and think you're the Boston Marathon all of a sudden. You build your reputation and the running community will respond. Isn't that what White Rock was doing? Is a 20,000-person sellout unconvincing?

In much the same way, much as Dallas has tried for years to tell the rest of the world how awesome it is, things just don't work that way. It's said that a Texan's favorite word is Texas, and likewise Dallas has a mighty high impression of itself -- and it's completely undeserved. Dallas is the can't-do city.

Look at how Dallas was silent when it came to the Cowboys moving from Irving to Arlington. Look at how Deep Ellum was kneecapped. The Trinity -- who the hell knows. Dallas has all these great ideas about how it will make itself this international cosmopolitan leader and then does everything it can to nip all that in the bud. Even the showcase bridge the new marathon will feature is a reminder that there were supposed to be two more just like it; one will be scaled way back and the other may not be built at all.

Now, if folks on the city council were more interested in Dallas and less interested in fighting race wars with each other, they might get somewhere. But that aside, this idea that going with the name Dallas Marathon will suddenly conjure up romantic visions from out-of-town runners is just silly.

The Dallas Marathon may never live up to the glossy expectations that the folks who present it seem to think will just happen automatically, but there are a few things that can be done to push it in the right direction:
  • Lose the half.
One thing the majors have in common, as well as many of the other biggest marathons both domestically and internationally, is that they are one-race events. There are half marathons run by the same organizations that put on the marathons in Boston and New York and Chicago and other cities, sure, but nearly all of the biggest ones hold their halfs on some other day, usually on the opposite end of the calendar.

If you're wanting to bring folks from out of town, a marathon-only marathon is a good way to show that you're serious. This will hurt in the short term, as only a quarter of the 20,000 slots have typically been taken by full marathoners, but will pay off in time.
  • Lose the lake.
If you're going to take away the association with White Rock Lake in the name of the event, why not sever the tie completely? I agree with the organizers that the race must start and finish downtown. To include the lake in the route, you have to send runners a few miles out of the way through not terribly scenic areas, simply to run several more miles with no spectators. I enjoy running at the lake but if we're talking about making this a big-time event, you need crowds.

I realize that there are certain constrictions Dallas faces in terms of a favorable marathon course. You can't go too far east, west or south of downtown, and heading north you have to deal with potential pushback from the Park Cities. But give me some time to work with and I could come up with a decent route that makes extensive use of downtown and uptown and lassoes in the parts of Dallas worth seeing. (The excellent Rock 'n' Roll Dallas and 13.1 Dallas courses give one plenty to work with.)
  • Lose the (current) sponsor.
Does MetroPCS do anything for anyone? I realize we should be happy to accept cash from any respectable corporate sponsor, but if you want to go big, the fifth-largest wireless carrier with an antiquated name for its line of business is not a good fit. Do AT&T or TI or Southwest Airlines not have a few extra bucks laying around? (Note also that those three companies are actually based in Dallas, unlike Richardson's Metro.)

I certainly want the Dallas Marathon to succeed, but it will take a while to warm up to the new name. It's hard to argue that an event that sells out every year needs a massive overhaul and rebranding, but if that's what the folks in charge want, they need to do it right.

1 comment:

  1. I've run it once, but wasn't that impressed. They do seem to have an identity crisis with the constant name/sponsor changes. And, I agree - lose the half. There are plenty other ones in the area.