with London Marathon Director David Bedford on the Event
and Its Membership in the World Marathon Majors
is an extended version of the interview that appears in
the June, 2007 issue of Road Race Management Newsletter.
Road Race Management (RRM):
The London Marathon is part of the World Marathon
Majors. How did this relationship among the races come
David Bedford: [It started] when race directors
get together in a bar or for a meal or whatever in the
build-up period. There became more and more times when
people became interested in how another marathon did
something, and as sort of a friendship developed so did
an opportunity to be open and to be supportive. It
became clear to me early on that although we were
perceived as being the best marathon, that didnít mean
we couldnít learn from what other people did. So, I
suppose really, the World Marathon Majors came from that
kind of activity. We, London, always had a good
relationship with Chicago, with Carey, and with Mark
Milde [Berlin Marathon director]. Those were always very
open relationships. The New York relationship, while it
was friendly, became far more open with us when Mary
became race director, and I think that Boston has sort
of come along with it. In other words, they needed a bit
more convincing that there was something in it for them,
although now they can see that there is.
So there are the usual growing pains of trying to make
informal relationships formal. We now talk on a regular
basis. We meet face-to-face on a regular basis, and we
deal with issues within our sport on a regular basis,
RRM: What have you done as this has
become a more formal business arrangement?
DB: We signed a document of understanding
about a year ago. Having done that, weíve then done a
whole bunch of things together. We have appointed a
marketing agency to find a sponsor for us. We have
created contracts that have common provisions within our
events. We have agreed on a code of conduct for
athletes. We have got our medical directors together
talking about common issues. And we have created a
website that gives us a presence. Thatís happened in a
year, and we will continue to develop all aspects of our
sportó marketing, IT. I think IT is one of those areas
where you can see an immediate benefit. If youíve got
five individual races having to struggle with the
challenges of their own IT and their own scoring, timing
and scoring systems, you can see that thereís a
massively lost resource in there. If we can come up with
a common system and that system gets used five times a
year, rather than once a year, then clearly you would
expect to see significant improvement and development in
those systems over a short period of time.
RRM: Technology is one area that does seem ripe
DB: There are two elements to that challenge.
One is how do you get the information, and two is what
do you do with it once you have it. We will continue to
look at alternatives when they come up. At the moment we
are all using the Champion Chip system, but that doesnít
mean that thatís the only system weíll come up with.
We keep an open mind in the marketplace and are
interested in whatís going on. But there are five of
us interested in it now, so youíve got more chance of
picking up new initiatives when youíre working with
RRM: Youíve done all this within a year. Whatís
on the horizon?
DB: The short-term goal is to make sure that
each of our departments is interacting with its
counterparts at the other events. At the press office in
Berlin, for example, we had key members of our own press
teams getting involved, being supportive. There are a
lot of crossover benefits. There are a whole load of
areas like that. That needs to be happening across all
the areas so we all get the benefits. Innovation, things
we havenít yet thought up, with the whole aim being
that the profile and the perceived importance of
marathon running in general and our five events in
particular is increased, improved.
RRM: What about TV broadcasts and streaming
video on the web?
DB: We are currently working with an outside
partner to make sure that all of our events are
available in areas where they arenít naturally
televised. That needs to be consistent. It needs to be
managed appropriately so that people get used to a
common format. It makes sense for someone who better
understands the market to be advising us as to which way
we go with that rather than each of us trying to work it
out ourselves. At the moment we are in discussions with
TWI. We could obviously all make it available on our own
through our own IT departments, our own websites, but
where it should be available is on the WMM website, as
well as our own websites, and it should be in a common
RRM: Running has developed as a participatory
sport. How do you merge and market the two elements of
the sportóthe participatory event and the sporting
event? How do you sell the sport, develop a fan base?
Seemingly what you have now is a core community of
participants, which is rather small, and the fan
community which is potentially huge.
DB: Iím not certain that thereís a massive
amount of difference between a participant and a fan. I
donít think the running community is small. I think itís
a large community. The challenge is getting to that
large community. The only way youíre going to get to
them on a regular basis is via webcast, etc. The New
York Marathon has enough of a challenge getting seen
coast to coast in the U.S. We shouldnít suddenly
believe thatís going to get any easier just because
theyíve associated with four other marathons. If this
whole drive is successful and our stars become more
identifiable by the general public then, of course,
there would be a natural movement to hopefully be on
television because thereís only a certain kind of
person whoís going to go in and download or look at
events live on the web. The running community is really
what thatís for. A fan is not going to do that. A fan
needs it simply to be in front of them. There are
magazine programs that the WMM will fit into quite
nicely because we are more than just an individual
marathon. So, the five of us have more opportunity to
get into magazine style programs on radio or TV, where
the WMM story can be told on an ongoing basis.
RRM: The athletes, the stars, the talent. How
do you promote that? How do you deal with the athletes
who believe their only job is to run? Is there a
responsibility to promote the sport?
DB: There is clearly a place in the marketplace
for the person who adds nothing apart from an athletic
performance. However, that person should de facto
receive significantly smaller recompense for that than
someone who sees the wider picture. Where we can, we
have a responsibility to help our stars to better
understand their obligations, to be more than
monosyllabic, and to have clearer identities when they
are competing. The vest issue, which is something weíve
made quite a lot of headway on, is another example of
that. If you put two people from one country in the same
vest and they also look very similar, itís very, very
hard for the sports fan to identify or care. That was
the drive about the vests. It took a little while but
the shoe companies now understand the principles and
have supported the basic principles. You have to do more
than that, but you have to put the basic fabric in place
to allow the next stage to happen.
RRM: How do you feel about working with the
athletes and agents from a marketing perspective?
DB: Having been in the marketplace for such a
long time, I know who the agents are. I know who the
athletes are who will give more value than just their
running performance and those who will only give their
running performance. We have open conversations when weíre
negotiating about the impact of thatÖ. And itís more
than just getting the athlete when they go to a press
conference to say: ďYouíre the greatest fans Iíve
ever seen,Ē and ďI want to thank Flora the sponsor,
because without them none of this could happen.Ē And
every single one of them hasnít to thank God for a
great performance either.
RRM: What about unions?
DB: Iím fine with that. I think a common set
of principles is important. Weíve got new contracts
and new code of conduct, which have been put together
following discussions with agents. We would be fine if
there was an agentsí body that perhaps said weíd
like to propose some adjustments to the code of conduct
because perhaps this is just a bit more onerous or
whatever. But in reality there is quite a good
relationship with agents. In fact agents can make our
lives a heck of a lot easier. Agents are there for the
long haul. Race directors are there for the long haul.
Athletes come and go.
RRM: Fred Lebow used to say, ďWe make stars,Ē
meaning that the event was paramount. Do you agree?
DB: The athletes should want to compete in our
events because the conditions are good, the environment
is good. There is interest from the city. There is a
television profile. There is a high newspaper profile,
and there is sufficient money to make the terms that
people get better than they are at races that donít
have all those bits and pieces. Itís not a coincidence
that the events that are part of the WMM are the events
that athletes were going to anyway. Some of these things
were already in place.
RRM: Where do you come down on the debate over
prize money vs. appearance money? Are some athletes
perceived to be worth more?
DB: You donít have to have open prize money.
You could take the view that a raceís worst nightmare
is that the Olympic, World Champion, and WR holder are
beaten by somebody who gets lucky onceósomebody youíve
never heard of. You could argue that in order to be
eligible for prize money you need to have performed up
to a certain level at first. Nobody wants the underdog
DWD: The agents donít want it. The athletes donít
want it. The races donít want it. So, Iím saying
that as a concept, youíve got to go into this more
deeply. Itís true, we are the only sport that allows
the common man to line up and take part in the same
race; however, at the elite end, we have to have control
over who we invite to take part in our races. There
could be a smaller set of prize money. What you donít
want, what you genuinely donít want is to have
somebody coming out of nowhere and being treated the
same way as your stars, in my opinion. Thatís not a
OK, hereís the best example I can give of this. If you
go back to the Carl Lewis, Linford Christie showdown,
who knows how many years ago it was. Christie was
second, Lewis was fourth. Who won? And I think we are in
the business to manage, where we can, those kinds of
RRM: Conversely, the nobodys who win do become
DB: We need to have more control. We already
have loads of people who want to run in our events that
we donít invite. I donít think thereís a massive
difference between that and what Iím saying.
RRM: But the more you control, the more danger
that you get a staged event.
DB: Thatís not true. The Olympic final is not
a staged competition because the bloke that wasnít
selected by his country is not able to compete.
RRM: Charities have taken over the mass
participation element of the sport. How important is it
for the big races to have that?
DB: Itís vital for us. It does two things.
One, it increases the income into our event, which
allows us to plow significantly higher amounts of money
into the development of the race. The fact that it is
financially very successful for the charities themselves
is naturally important, and most of us have an
understanding of why charities are there and how they
need income. In the global sense itís also more
important for us in that an event that closes down the
city for a day, that disrupts so many people, needs to
have more as a counterbalance than that it shows the
city off and itís nice for people who want to run a
city center marathon. We have that. At last yearís
[London Marathon], runners in the event raised £41.5
million for charity. That is understood by people who
get disadvantaged by the city closing down. So, itís
important because the event is not seen as merely an
event for those people who are interested in running
only. If London had gone that route and that route only,
I would imagine that our numbers would be no better than
they were in 1981 when the event started. Because the
standard running community, if you take out the charity
runners and take out those who are doing it for
health-running only, and left it to the people who are
just involved in the traditional running clubs, the
event wouldnít be happening anyway. It would be dead.
The best example is, that in this country, thereís
hardly any other big city marathons. Youíve got
smaller onesóa thousand here and a couple of thousand
thereóbut, you know, [the larger ones] donít exist.
So thatís the impact on London. I believe New York,
Boston, and Chicago have seen the benefits of a charity
program and will be looking to get the same benefits
from it as we do by developing their charity programs.
RRM: Was that a conscious decision regarding
DB: Yes, it was a conscious decision back in
1993. We will have something like 13,000 people running
directly on charity entries where charities have paid
300 pounds for that entry and where they will get back
2,100 pounds in money that is raised by those runners.
Whatís the alternative? Charge someone else 300
pounds? Charge the overseas person 300 pounds? You can
imagine what youíd get. So, weíve identified a new
marketplace while other marketplaces are decreasing. The
greatest pressure comes from people who want to run the
marathon and want to raise money for charities. We have
something like 100,000 UK applications from such people.
RRM: What is the percentage of the entrants to
London who are ďcharity runners?Ē
DB: In simple terms, youíre talking about it
being a third. Seventy-eight percent of people who run
in the marathon are running for charity. If you take out
the 2,500 overseas people who run in London, it goes up
to 82%. The event has gone wider than one, what is it
that you as a runner can get out of the experience, and,
two, what you can do for someone else at the same time.
RRM: What impact will the upcoming London
Olympics in 2012 have?
DB: I canít answer that completely. The London
Marathon has been given the responsibility to organize
the Olympic Marathon, the Paralympic Marathon and the
race walks. It will mean weíll have a busy year
because the London Marathon will also happen in that
year. Whether there are any changes to the marathon in
that year remains to be seen. The Olympic course is a
lap course, with the exception of 200 meters at the
start and four miles at the end. It starts on Tower
Bridge. Essentially there are three 10K laps, and then
four miles out to the stadium. You couldnít put 35,000
runners around a 10K lap course. You might have the
option of saying run one lap of it.
RRM: How important is the success of domestic
runners at London?
DB: Itís important. It helps, but what you
mustnít start to do is to artificially adjust your
fields so that your people get an easier chance of
winning. Clearly, having a Paula Radcliffe winning or an
Eamonn Martin, weíve had a number of British winners
over the years. If that happened on a regular basis it
would have less cachť to it. The fact that it does
happen few and far between means you know that the
person is seriously a great runner. That shouldnít
hide away from the situation where we are definitely
going through a low point with British runners, as
indeed you did in the U.S. Itís helped a bit by your
support programs and that some of the overseas people
have come across to your country and are running in your
RRM: LizYelling won a bronze at the 2006
Commonwealth Games and got her funding cut. Do you see a
development role for London?
DB: Yeah, I think we have to be careful with
it. We already spend probably $500,000 a year on
distance running development programs in association
with UKA (UK Athletics). We must, however, not assume
that just because you give money to people they will run
faster. When there wasnít money around people were
running faster and doing a dayís work as well. So, I
donít think that you can just assume that making money
available is going to change peopleís attitude and
performance. It needs to be cleverer than that. There is
a school of thought that says by making money available
too early, you actually create a false dawn of
achievement, which stands in the way of the athlete
RRM: Yes, I think part of the issue with Liz
was that it wasnít just money, it was that she couldnít
get massage services close to home and some of the basic
support stuff necessary to train at a high level.
DB: I donít know enough about her case, but
athletes like that should have access to a basic set of
support services. Thatís probably a far better thing
than just giving money so they can have an extra two
weeks holiday and a nicer car.
RRM: Do you see the events playing a larger
DB: Yes, I do. You should be able to have more
impact by working with partners (thus the association
with UKA) where there are additional resources that can
be made available. Itís exactly the same as the WMM
RRM: What are your relationships with IOC,
DB: We all believe that a relationship with the
IAAF is important. When we put our WMM concept together
we included the existing major championships as part of
it. At the moment, as an example, thereís a working
group looking at the future of road running to make
recommendations to the IAAF. I sit as a member of the
cross country and road running committee. Mary
Wittenberg has been invited to join as the
representative for WMM. The line with AIMS is somewhat
more complicated. Three of us have actually left AIMS.
The rationale for that is that AIMS doesnít actually
do anything, and there were some serious concerns about
its governance. AIMS, in our opinion, wasnít prepared
to do enough about those concerns. Two of our members
are still members and that is absolutely their right.
With New York and London being founding members of AIMS,
anyone who looks at this must say there must be
something seriously wrong with AIMS to have two founding
members take that position. We have not made our
concerns any more public than those words Iíve said
Weíre not trying to pretend weíre a governing body.
Again, we shouldnít attempt to punch beyond our
weight. But we are a group that from time to time can
use our joint strength in being heard in certain
RRM: Youíve weighed in on the drugs issue,
for example by effectively banning athletes who have
been convicted of serious doping violations from the WMM
DB: Itís a statement. Itís a marker. The
fact that it is there demonstrates that it can be done.
Itís not just people talking about it on websites, but
there are actually people doing something about it. Have
done something about it. Itís easy to talk when youíve
got no responsibility.
Weíve also proposed that the IAAF pick up on this and
ban people from their events. Our proposal was a life
ban, but they didnít want to go that route. They
should seriously consider making people who have been
guilty of the serious offense not available to take part
in IAAF competitions. So, now this topic is in the right
place. Itís in the political environment. Seb Coe has
said that he supports that position. Those decisions
will happen. Itís the IAAF Council and the IAAF
Congress where those debates need to happen.
RRM: Getting back to appearance money/prize
money. Is the correct form developing?
DB: Thereís an open market out there, as well
as the fact that we are part of a self-help group (WMM).
We also at certain times are competitors to each other.
What weíre not is a cartel. Therefore, we have to take
account of market forces from within our group and also
from outside our group and deal with those as
appropriate. The business of road running has a common
set of principles of appearance money, of prize money,
of bonus money, so thatís something that has settled
down. We have common contracts now and that is very much
a part of our new contracts, but that doesnít stop an
individual marathon from doing something else. If a
marathon thinks that a Mercedes car should be there in
addition because that works in with their marketing
program, then that isnít to say that everybody else
has to do it. But I dare say that if Mercedes wanted to
give a car to the winner of each of the WMM that would
be something that would work.
RRM: Can you comment on discrepancies between
whatís available to top runners and professional
athletes in other sports, such as golf or tennis?
DB: They are richer sports. Our sport, by and
large, is a sport for cheapskates. Athletes and athletes
lower down the food chain are part of that market. We
have a sport which has virtually no interest in its
history. We donít have massive collectors of
memorabilia. If you look at gold itís exactly the
opposite. We have people who whinge about an entry fee
to a race when itís half the price for entry into a
stadium where you can sit and watch a football game. The
marketplace is the marketplace. I think we can make a
difference in that marketplace by creating opportunities
for more income, but, in truth, only when the
marketplace becomes more valuable will there be
significant increases in what people can earn. That will
require the efforts of the athletes and others. They are
partly responsible for the state of our market. Iíd
like to give every one of them a million dollars because
for every million dollars we give to them weíve raised
another million dollars for the event. I would love us
to be like motor racing, but letís stay real here.
Going forward, we have to be logical and sensible. Live
in the real world.
What ďgoodiesĒ do
the runners get?
DB: They get free travel to the start. They get
free travel to the finish if they drop out. They get
free training guides. They get free water and sports
drink on the course. They get free timing. They get a
free result confirmation(post card with finish time).
They get a medal, a t-shirt and a goodie bag with food
items to help them recover, and in most cases, they get
the greatest days of their lives.
The goodie bag just has items from the sponsors?
DB: No. At times we purchase items to go in there to be sure that their recovery is important. The bag that they get at the finish is things they need at the finish. We also have a bag at the exhibition that they get. That tends to be more sponsor led.
RRM: Do you have trouble with bandits?
DB: We appear to be on top of the eBay activity
because we areó through fair means or foulóable to
find out who people are and we cancel the number. So, we
are fairly successful at that. We have people out on the
course looking for photocopied numbers. Who knows how
successful we are with that. We do catch people. Do we
catch everyone? We donít know. All you can do is what
you can do.
RRM: Those who get caught get a lifetime ban?
DB: When we know who they are, yeah. But, again,
youíve got to live in the real world here.
RRM: Do you have a time limit?
DB: No, not really. The roads will reopen after
eight hours. But then, there are still people out on the
course. They, then, become prudent pedestrians. When
they get to the finish, they get a time and a medal and
go away happy.