Dublin Marathon needs live TV

 

Business of Sport/Daire Whelan: Future expansion and growth of the Dublin City Marathon is in doubt unless Irish TV is interested in paying for broadcast rights of the event.

The last time RTÉ carried the 26-mile race live was in 1991 but race organisers now have to pay for filming the event themselves. Without TV coverage and TV money there is less sponsorship interest and developing the race beyond a 10,000-runner race thus appears to be an impossibility.

Although the 2003 Dublin City Marathon saw over 8,000 runners taking part, 5,000 coming from overseas, and with an estimated €10 million being brought into the economy as a result, Dubliners' attitudes to the race seem to reflect our State broadcaster's: at best mild interest while at worst disdain and anger at the way the city streets are taken over.

But just compare and contrast with the New York City Marathon, which is taking place tomorrow morning.

Beginning in 1970 with 55 runners tracking across Manhattan and its boroughs and run on a $1,000 budget, the race now attracts 30,000 runners, has 12,000 volunteers and sees 2.5 million New Yorkers line the streets.

Irish Voice publisher Niall O'Dowd, who himself ran the race four times in the 1990s, says for many New Yorkers it is the greatest day of the year and is a carnival and celebration of the city.

"New York totally embraces its marathon and to see the best of the city just come for the race, even as a spectator. Starting off in Staaten Island, going through the black neighbourhoods then hitting the Jewish, the Polish, the Irish areas and then Harlem, you see the true polyglot culture of the city.

"I'll never forget my experience of running in it and one moment hearing the jazz bands playing in the black neighbourhood followed in the next instant by an Irish group singing A Nation Once Again as I turned into the Irish district."

But of course it wouldn't be possible without the massive sponsorship budget the race gets and for the first time this year, the New York race is sponsored by Dutch financial giant ING, who with other minor sponsors have signed deals totalling

$30 million.

Most important, though, is the extensive TV coverage that NBC give the race nationally and globally, resulting in peak ratings as the race nears conclusion.

The New York Road Runners, who organise the marathon, say over $140 million is spent in the days leading up to and including race day and for many bars and restaurants along the route it is their busiest day of the year.

In New York, O'Dowd says, businesses welcome the race and would have more opposition to the St Patrick's Day parade taking place and disrupting them than the marathon.

While Dublin can never and will never compete on the scale of the New York City Marathon, the growth since 1996 has been steady. Jim Aughney took over as race director on a part-time capacity in the same year, when 2,500 runners took part. Now, there are 8,000 running, including an increasing number from the UK and Europe.

As he pointed out last year, businesses were beside themselves when Ireland played Iran in the World Cup play-off in Dublin around the same time last year while they paid little or no attention to the thousands of visitors that were coming to the city for the Bank Holiday marathon.

With a budget this year of ... €578,000 including a prize fund of €93,000, the Dublin City Marathon is dependent on the time and goodwill of the volunteers like Aughney. And without the four-year €500,000 sponsorship deal from adidas, it is unlikely the race would survive at all.

But the real question now is to its future growth. Will RTÉ embrace the marathon and give it live exposure nationally and globally? Or will the event continue to be forced to pay for its own filming and hope that sponsorship and goodwill will be enough to maintain the race?

Check out the New York City Marathon tomorrow and see just how much of an advertisement such an event could be for a city like Dublin.