© Copyright – 2016 – Victoria Sports News
It seems that no one has yet figured out a way to get the bums into the Centennial Stadium seats at the Victoria International Track Classic, that exciting high-end track meet that features the best Canadian and international athletes. It also appears that the antidote to stave off the global phenomenon of road racing atrophy, has yet to be discovered.
Enter new Race Manager and Executive Director Joe Dixon to the scene. He replaces the outgoing Cathy Noel from the position, who has moved on to other things including running for the BC Liberals in the Juan de Fuca seat for the next provincial election.
Dixon is the former Race Director of Ironman Canada that used to take place in Penticton. He has also been involved with several other events throughout BC.
Dixon moved to Victoria two-and-a-half years ago. “…and I am never leaving,” he said. Apparently he fell in love with the city.
It appears that the current rate of shrinkage in participation numbers is just a settling; a market correction, but no one likes to lose customers. Ask anyone in Greater Victoria why the race may be shrinking and the first response from them might be that the race calendar is full. Perhaps it is atrophy by a thousand competing events.
In the lower Vancouver Island area, on any given weekend, 52 weeks of the year, you will find multiple endurance-based sports and recreational events to participate in.
For running there is the Island Race Series, which includes eight road races that take place in various communities on the island from Sidney to Sooke to the Comox Valley. There is the Island Trail Series, which is a re-brand of the old Gutbuster Series of gnarly trail races that take place at select locations from Victoria to Mt. Washington. There is the newer MEC Race Series, which may be the only events experiencing growth at this time. The Victoria Run Series has gone through a few brand changes.
The Prairie Inn Harriers put on the healthy Thetis Lake Triple series. Throughout the city there exist many one-off events, some of them quite major, like the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon, which also offers a half-marathon, 8K and a kid’s 1.5K fun run.
Then there is multisport and cycling, for example, Ryder Hesjedal’s Tour de Victoria and the sudden and precipitous ascent of the popular sport of cyclocross. Triathlon season includes a number of local events from the sprint distance to the 70.3, previously known as the half-ironman.
Every day around Greater Victoria the trails, roads, waterways and playing fields and courts can be populated by runners, cyclists, swimmers, stand up paddle boarders, kayakers and a great variety of sports and recreational events. Traditional sports like soccer, baseball and hockey seem as popular as ever to watch and to participate in.
As for the TC10K, the biggest turnout came in 2010, when they had 10,615 finishers in the 10K alone. The numbers do not include the wheelchair category and the popular 1.5K kid’s run. Anywhere from five to 10 percent of registrants don’t show up. For 2010, there were over 13,000 registered.
So what’s a race director to do?
Dixon doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, if asked, he may be inclined to throw the question right back at you.
In a somewhat rhetorical fashion he asked, “what are some of the things that we can do to bring the numbers back to 13,000? Bring back the half-marathon? Add a 5K? Do something with the medals? You see it advertised as a running festival, what about the event makes it a festival to you?”
Dixon possesses an inquiring mind, and he wants to know what you are thinking.
When it was suggested that the TC10K is not a destination event, like the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon is, he was quick to turn that around, “maybe it could be,” he quipped.
“We are going to run the event this year and learn from it. I get the best feedback from customers immediately after the race. I am interested in knowing how the runner feels about the event as soon as they have finished.”
“We are going to travel to several other events to see how they do it. Find out what makes their race work, what the customer experience is all about.”
Dixon doesn’t refer to race participants as athletes or runners, they are customers. They are marketed to, they make the purchase and afterwards the manager wants to know how good the service and experience was and in his words, “what can we change to make it better.”
One popular feature of the TC10K is the clinics that take place at various recreation centres around Greater Victoria. For a package price participants can take in a 13-week training program that includes race registration.
“We will be dropping into most of the clinics around town to see what the customer experience is like and who is participating.”
“Victoria has such great community support, from the beginner clinics connected to the race, store clinics, which are often a little more advanced, then there is the personal and group coaching that is available too.”
Dixon still may have a jewel to work with; time will tell if he can bring back the full lustre. He is anticipating the 30th anniversary in 2019. In 1989, it was known as the Garden City 10K and started with approximately 700 runners.
As for the Victoria International Track Classic, it should sell out every year. It is a single event that provides entertainment, where Canada’s best as well as international athletes come to compete. The Track Classic is part of the professional National Track League that includes the Harry Jerome Track Classic in Vancouver, Edmonton Track Festival, The Aileen Meagher meet in Halifax and the Speed River Inferno in Guelph.
An earlier iteration of the Track Classic was an annual event that operated as far back as the 1960s. As a qualifying event for the 1968 Olympic Games, temporary seating had to be brought into the stadium to accommodate the demand of over 4,000 spectators.
Over the years, the numbers have dwindled, while the quality of the field has remained. Recent years have seen Olympic medallist Dylan Armstrong in the shot put, Gary Reed, Diane Cummins and Melissa Bishop, who are past and current national record holders in the 800-metre distance. Various Americans that are household names in running circles have taken in the meet.
As a domestic event that allows athletes to compete to try to qualify for the Olympics, world championships, Commonwealth Games and Pan Am Games, many of the races offer exciting head-to-head action featuring top-quality athletes.
Interestingly, twenty-seven times out of 27 home games, the Victoria HarbourCats outsold the Victoria International Track Classic in attendance. One game that had over half of Royal Athletic Park sold out was on the same weekend as the Rock the Shores Festival, sold-out Tragically Hip concert and Deuce Days car show in the harbour that attracted 10,000 people.
The Track Classic should sell out every year.
Dixon inherits two events that have excellent branding within the community as well as a strong history.
“It’s a Cadillac. I need to see the event happen, work with the committee and find out from customers what we are doing right and what we need to improve, so we can make both a better customer experience.”