Saturday, February 6, 2010

Successful Innovative Companies: Volume 16

The Successful Innoative Company of the week is: McMillan Running Company and McMillan Elite.

What they do right: make people run faster.

This is an organization I had not even considered until this week but as soon as I thought about it I knew they were a successful innovative company. This company is kind of centered around one man, Greg McMillan. It has expanded in recent years but he is the guy that got the ball rolling. Greg was a runner, and still is. A very good runner but not one of the best in the country. I personally know several people that are faster than he was. However, athletic ability and coaching ability do not always go directly hand in hand.

He started coaching athletes and turned out to do it pretty well. So three years ago he started McMillan Elite. The goal was to take decent college runners, not great runners, and give them housing and support to really train hard. Things have gone well. Many of the runners, who were not good enough to get sponsorship when they graduated from college are now some of the best in the country. They have gone to world championships and all sorts of international competitions representing USA. Most recently one of the original athletes had his debut marathon and ran a 2:10. In general running sub 2:11 gets you a 100k per year contract for two years. The economy may have changed but running a 2:10 is serious. Accomplishing that is no small feat.

The specific instance which really showed me that this company is different is that just this week they started a coaching program for ulrtarunners. I have never heard of ultrarunners having a coach. Most of them are self coached and independent. While this is a tiny segment of the running population it is a growing segment. I must applaud them for finding an accomplished ultrarunner to coach others. This is a step in the right direction. You see, one of the USA's top five ultrarunners is only maybe in the top 120 in the marathon. Not that it is a wide open and uncompetitive domain, it just does not get the attention that the marathon and shorter races do from athletes and spectators alike. I mean who, besides me, would really want to watch the entire seven hour 100k (62 miles) world championships? I see directing coaching at this segment is one small step toward making the sport more accessible to the masses.

What they could improve: more sponsorship. One of the problems with running sponsorship in the US is that athletes are only allowed two sponsors. Generally one is a shoe company and then the second is a sports nutrition company. Imagine if NASCAR, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Ed Vestiurs, the SuperBowl, or tennis players only had two sponsors! They would have so much less money. As I look at the stuff on my desk and think about sponsorship I think of all the opportunity we have. Chapstick, sunglasses, watches, car companies, food chains, formal clothing, computer companies, and coffee brands are all sponsorship possibilities. The best marathoner in the world right now is a 23 year old from Kenya who has trained in Japan for several years. He was, and I think still is, on a team sponsored by Toyota.

While having these training groups sponsored by shoe companies is great, I would really like to see Team Fidelity or Team Bank of America pop up. The bonus that just one CEO of these huge financial companies gets every year is enough to fund a fifteen person team for several years.

So my main complaint is not exactly against McMillan Elite or McMillan Running Company. I just think that by searching out alternative sponsors they could have greater financial resources. I also think that these alternative corporate sponsors would be easier for a club to get than individual athletes.

1 comment:

  1. Nice, interesting article. Greg McMillan has taken an idea and built & shaped it into a successful program for developing future elite runners; adidas also should be given credit for their support of this innovative program.

    The issue of multiple sponsors would be positive for runners and makes sense; but, what doesn't make sense (from a sponsor's perspective) is the lack of exposure of the athlete in the marketplace.

    Track & Field is not a major sport interest (as reflected by TV coverage) has dwindled. So, unless USA T&F and other groups can spur and increase in interest, sponsors may have little incentive to have runners represent them.

    The prohibition of no more than two sponsors is just another indication of how little bargaining power athletes (and their agents) have. Let the individual athletes go out & seek their own sponsors (local or national) without regard to 'limits'.


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