Another solution to the “Where?” problem

Back in May I looked at a solution to the “Where?” problem. Another solution has been proposed by Rich Perelman.

What’s the “Where?” problem? It’s the lack of a suitable venue to host an IAAF World Championships. Not the indoor or cross country versions, both of which the U.S. has hosted, but the biggie, the outdoor Worlds. It became a hot topic when former USATF CEO Doug Logan made hosting the IAAF Worlds one of his major goals.

Like I said back in May, the U.S. has stadiums with large seating capacities, and we have stadiums in major metropolitan areas, and we have facilities that are IAAF Class I or II certified (or can be), but the Worlds require all of those together, and that we don’t have. I suggested the expanding Spire Academy in the Cleveland exurb of Geneva as a possible solution, but it has drawbacks.

Now Rich Perelman has suggested another solution, using Cal’s Edwards Stadium. When opened in 1932, it was the world’s first track-specific stadium, and hosted the NCAA Championships eight times.

Who is Perelman? In his own words…

I was the Director of Press Operations for the 1984 Olympic Games, have worked on four other Games, wrote the three bids for Stanford’s tries at the World Champs for 1997/1999/2001 and the successful bid (later given back) for the 2006 World Cup at The Home Depot Center in the Los Angeles area. I was directly involved in one way or another with the 87 Pan Ams in Indianapolis, 90 Goodwill Games in Seattle and 93 WUG in Buffalo. 

Like E.F. Hutton, when he talks we should listen.

I’ve developed a long checklist of requirements for a venue, based on comments from various people who have some first-hand knowledge of the situation. How does Edwards Stadium stack up?

1. Destination-city status.
There are many weaknesses to the Spire Academy as a Worlds host, but this is the biggest. Apparently many international bigwigs were unhappy with Edmonton as host of the 2001 Worlds, as pleasant a city as you’ll find but not a destination for travel. Even Atlanta, a major-league city, wasn’t up to snuff in 1996. So a Cleveland exurb is simply out of the question.

From a well-heeled European globetrotter’s point of view, there are probably only six cities in the USA they’d like to spend two weeks in: New York, Boston, Chicago, Washington DC, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Of these, the only other one that could even dream of hosting a Worlds is New York, and only then if Icahn Stadium took over the entirety of Randall’s Island.

2. Large seating capacity.
The smallest stadium to ever host an IAAF Worlds is in Helsinki, which seats 40,000. Edwards Stadium seats 22,000. Perelman suggests the following work-arounds:

Evans Diamond, home of the reprieved baseball team, sits right behind Edwards Stadium, with dimensions of 320 feet down the foul lines and 395 to dead center. That space of nearly four acres could easily host 16-20,000 additional bleacher seats, bringing the capacity to more than 40,000.

Hellman Tennis Stadium to the north includes six large, hard-court playing surfaces, on which could be placed as many as 4,000 more seats, bringing the “World Championships” capacity to around 44,000 or so, barely sufficient – but probably enough – for the IAAF.

3. Transportation.
Both in terms of direct international flights and public transportation throughout the city and to the stadium, the Bay Area is rivaled among U.S. cities only by New York. San Francisco International Airport has the largest international terminal in North America. Light rail, seaports and bicycle commuting combine to make the Bay Area’s transportation among the best of any major western hemisphere city. And there’s a BART stop a block and a half from Edwards Stadium.

4. All the long throws inside the stadium.

5. A non-crowned grass field.

6. Availability for most of August.
As a venue used only for track and soccer, Edwards Stadium does not have issues conflicting with football. It’s over half a mile away from California Memorial Stadium and its associated practice facilities, so that’s not an issue either. What is an issue is that Cal’s fall semester begins in late August, and the earliest an IAAF Worlds has ever been completed is on August 10. I don’t know if the university would be willing to have such a huge long-term event so close to the beginning of the school year.

7. A warmup track no more than a 5-minute walk away.
Berkeley High School’s track is just two blocks away, making Edwards Stadium one of only a handful of tracks in the US that meet this requirement.

8. A couple of acres of open space (parking lot is fine) right next to the stadium for the TV compound.
There is a parking lot across the street from Edwards Stadium, but it is assumed that Bancroft Way would be shut down for a few blocks, making this a workable solution.

9. Within 5-minutes walk a building with floor space the size of 2-3 basketball courts that will serve as the press center.
Perelman: “Cal’s basketball hall, Haas Pavilion, overlooks Evans Diamond and is large enough to handle the media needs on its floor, concourses and meeting and banquet rooms.”

10. Within the stadium enough “office space” for medical, physio, drug testing, call room, technical delegate office, IAAF offices, LOC offices, international TV production.
Edwards Stadium does not have this. But Perelman has an alternative: “Cal’s Recreational Sports Facility, just behind Edwards, is a 100,000-square foot student recreational facility with three gyms, seven basketball courts, six squash courts, seven handball courts and much more to handle all of the administrative needs of the Championships, even some VIP parking.”

11. VIP/VVIP space, if not basketball-size area in the stadium, then in an air-conditioned tent right outside the stadium.
See above.

12. A well-oiled machine of an organizing committee, headed by nearly inexhaustible people with vision.
Ah, here’s where Edwards Stadium runs out of steam. You see, it used to host everything–USA Championships, NCAA Championships, USA versus USSR, you name it. The last time it held a meet that the locals actually had ask to host? 1978. That’s right, not a single major meet in Edwards Stadium (besides its Pac-10 Championships rotation) in thirty-three years.

The amount of work required to organize an IAAF Worlds is beyond the scope of all but a few people in this country. The organization that three times submitted bids to host the Worlds in Stanford Stadium in the late 90s was headed by Vin Lananna, and there are not too many people like him around. Elsewhere in the world, government employees working in the federal Ministry of Sport (or its equivalent) usually shoulder the load, as well as local government employees. Here it would be done by volunteers. The only standing organizations I can think of who have the experience and the manpower are the Oregon Track Club, the New York Road Runners Club, and maybe the Boston Athletic Association.

And really, the only way that Edwards Stadium would actually be chosen is if the IAAF desperately wanted a Worlds to come to the USA. It simply doesn’t measure up to the other facilities. Of the 14 stadia that have hosted (or will host) an IAAF Worlds, 11 have either hosted an Olympics or a World Cup (and of the other three, one hosted a Commonwealth Games and another hosted a UEFA Cup Final). They are truly major-league stadiums on a worldwide level. Edwards Stadium is not.

And then there are the two issues that kept Stanford from winning any of its bids: a lack of financial guarantees, and finding a TV company willing to shoulder the cost of providing a TV signal. Both are done by government agencies elsewhere as a public service. With a very real possibility of losing (big) money on it, private enterprise is generally not interested here.

But demonstrating that Edwards Stadium is possible as a Worlds host, Perelman has made an important point. It’s not that we lack the facility, it’s that we lack the will (and the money).

If you’re like me, and you would like to see an IAAF Worlds in the USA before you die but doubt that you will, then you shouldn’t worry about it specifically. You should instead concentrate on what you can do to help make track and field popular as a spectator sport in the USA, because that’s the key to making a Worlds happen here. It cannot be changed overnight. But you have to think about where soccer in the USA was fifty years ago and where it is now. And you have to take those competing running shoe slogans to heart: “Impossible is nothing” and “Just do it.”

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2 Responses to Another solution to the “Where?” problem

  1. trackthoughts says:

    I really enjoyed your article and like Mr. Perelman it is refreshing to read a positive approach for doing something to move track & field forward in the United States. All to often I see people writing what’s wrong and how it can’t be done. Both of you made me feel as a reader that you were both thoughtful in your approaches to the possibility of using Cal’s Edwards Stadium to host IAAF Worlds. This is the kind of thinking that seems to be lacking at USA Track & Field. I attended the 1st IAAF World Indoor Championships in Indianapolis back in 1987 and I would love nothing more then to see the outdoor meet in the states. Thanks for your insights on this subject; so glad I discovered you site.

  2. pjm says:

    Good hunting. This is well laid out, and the crowning point – it’s not the venue, it’s the will – is the real message. You’re right that there aren’t many standing organizations in this country which could do it. NYRR would seriously strain its ability to follow through on its existing commitments if it took on a World Champs – they would have to staff up. Same goes for the B.A.A. – they have a smaller core of full-time professionals than the NYRR, and staff up with contractors (DMSE and others) for big events. The OTC is closest to the “Local Organizing Committee” role in its fundamental rule.

    One bright spot in that regard, however, is that there is a certain amount of professional experience out there which can be hired in the wake of a successful bid. The IAAF, FIFA, et al know these people and recommend them to LOCs, with the result that the same people can be running (for example) media operations in Valencia and Doha. (You can bet Doha has a lot of European expats working on the details of the World Cup right now.) If a LOC could put together a successful bid (and, sigh, the money) they could hire some of the expertise to follow through.