By Jazzy Teen
Listen Up, Lansing
LANSING — On Feb. 13, race director Dr. Owen Anderson announced the cancellation of what would have been the fourth annual Lansing Marathon and sponsored events.
While Anderson called off the event without force from the public or city government, there is serious doubt the race would have continued due to the dropped support from the outside community and immense debt owed by the Lansing Marathon.
“After seeing everything that has happened, I’ve decided to just tell you the whole truth,” Anderson said.
To date, the Lansing Marathon is nearly $70,000 in debt, according to Anderson.
Within the $70,000 debt is more than $12,000 combined to three local companies that have worked in past years with the Lansing Marathon, according to documents provided by the vendors.
According to Anderson, the marathon’s struggles started from the very beginning, in the inaugural year of 2012 but in his eyes this was not a foreshadowing of a short-lived marathon.
As he reflected on the race’s three years and what went wrong, he said that support from the local government, positive media reflections, and support from the business community that could lead to sponsorships, are the key factors in a successful marathon.
“Without local government’s support, a race of a marathon’s capacity cannot function. The city officials smooth the way,” said Anderson.
According to Randy Hannan, Mayor Virg Bernero’s chief of staff and communications, the mayor withdrew his support by the third year because “there is another successful marathon in Lansing later in the year and the determination is that it is not a big enough city nor is it necessary to hold two.”
“We were aware of a number of organizational and logistical challenges that did not meet expectations,” said Hannan.
“There is only so much sponsorship to go around and with declining participation in the Lansing Marathon, we decided to keep the Capital City River Run, which is a very smooth and very well ran sponsored event.”
Hannan later said that city government was aware of financial baggage held by the marathon, but “nothing very specific.”
According to Anderson, he was blindsided by the drop of support from the local government.
“Last marathon, which was in 2014, throughout the entire year I did not receive a single response from Mayor Bernero — from my phone calls, emails, and text messages. Not a single response so essentially, he dropped his support,” said Anderson.
Hannan declined to respond to this allegation.
“We are moving forward and not looking back,” said Hannan.
Speaking of unreturned calls and messages, many others claim the same but in regards to Anderson.
One of the yet to be paid companies contributing to the $12,000 accumulated debt, includes Skyline Outdoor Advertising of Okemos. Owner Rick Imshaw said that his company was hired to do the first marathon with Anderson.
“With him [Anderson], there is absolutely no credibility. We were constantly trying to get phone calls returned to pay the bill,” said Imshaw. “If he paid $20 a month I would be okay with that, but three years later and nothing — no money or response.”
Anderson denies allegations of not returning phone calls to owed vendors, but the invoices tell a different story.
Imshaw provided an invoice originally issued April 1, 2012 and addressed to Anderson. As of April 24, 2014, an amount ending in $3,845.58 is still owed to Skyline Outdoor Advertising.
Owner of Gault Race Management John Gault, who worked in the inaugural year as well and was responsible for the timing of the race, faced a similar fate in his experience with Anderson.
In an email, Gault said that he had tried to contact Anderson numerous times. He described Anderson as “quite smooth and convincing.”
An invoice dated June 10, 2013 provided by Gault Race Management indicated that after an initial $1,300 payment was made, an outstanding amount of $6,273 is still owed.
“Bottom line, he owes us and others a great deal of money, but I did not sue for several reasons … The most important is that I have been involved with the running community since high school — I’m almost 70 — and do not think litigation will bode well for our sport,” said Gault in an email.
Chuck Block of the Michigan Running Foundation, another timing company that has put on events as large as the Turkey Trot in Detroit, was aware of Anderson’s reputation before taking part in last year’s marathon.
According to Block, Anderson contacted him two months before the race with still no one to provide timing. Before agreeing, Block spoke with Gault about his experience.
“John Gault and the folks from Playmakers twisted my arm a bit. I knew people who dealt with him the very first year still had not been paid, but John convinced me because he knew the runners deserved a good experience and I agreed,” said Block.
Block considers himself one of the lucky ones because he required a certain amount of money upfront. To date, Anderson owes the Michigan Running Foundation $2,403 according to Block.
Anderson admitted the significant amount of money he stills owes to many people but claims these debts come from dropped sponsorships.
According to Anderson, Blue Cross Blue Shield at $50,000, Two Men and a Truck at $20,000, and a local Chevy dealership at $15,000 were all sponsorships that dropped out by the final year.
“When putting an event, you can’t just assume sponsors are going to stay from start to finish. You have to be a good businessman and plan accordingly and realistically,” said Gault.
Anderson believes that sponsors dropped due to lack of support from influential members in the community.
A Lansing resident for years and always extremely active in the running community, Anderson explained the significant role respected Playmakers, footwear and apparel store of Okemos, has on the community.
According to Anderson, Playmakers strongly opposed the marathon and reflected that mind-set on to runners who came into their store.
Despite Anderson’s allegations, when speaking with Playmakers part owner Brian Jones and employee Andy Marsh and viewing previous invoices, Playmakers did more for the marathon than Anderson led on.
“The two of us helped to set the course up. We were literally there at four in the morning with a crew of six, if I remember correctly, setting up the course itself,” said Marsh.
“We provided jackets to staff, headgear, official merchandise, and then paid him a royalty on the sale of that merchandise. You know it’s a new event, it’s something risky so it wasn’t a money maker per say for us but we thought it was important to commemorate this event for the first timers that wanted to have a jacket or t-shirt that said ‘Lansing Marathon’ on it,” said Jones.
The third year’s packet pick up was actually held at Playmakers and according to both Marsh and Jones, they were in favor of the marathon and even sympathized with Anderson.
“There’s plenty of people in this community that want to do these events and he proved that. I think the biggest piece that he was probably missing and the biggest challenge was that he wasn’t able to make this financially work,” said Jones.
“And you know if you don’t pay your vendors and suppliers it’s going to be hard to keep this going unless you’re investing your own money.”
“Most people, or many people, think ‘Gosh it’s a marathon, a lot of people are registering and paying a hundred dollars for the race. Sponsorships are there, the marathon has a lot of money.’ But that isn’t all of it,” said Anderson.
According to Anderson, the first year’s city fees totaled close $30,000. The second year was more than $20,000.
“In his defense, he came and introduced a marathon at a very difficult time. I think he was the first marathon in Lansing to be charged heavy police fees and service fees,” said Marsh.
“If he had had his first race the year before I think his fees would have been dramatically less because this was when races were first starting to get charged by the cities. It wouldn’t have solved everything but it would have been a better start and less baggage.”
Discussing the debt and money owed to vendors, Anderson shamefully looked down as he spoke.
“I still had optimism. I don’t give up on things very easily and try to keep going and I just thought eventually it would work out. All events and a lot of businesses struggle in beginning years and I never dreamed so much support would be dropped,” said Anderson.
“I thought that with better communication I could bring more sponsors on board. “
When asked if he plans on repaying what is owed to the local businesses and others, he said he does. Sequestration Scotland deals with the bankruptcy and debt involved.
Currently, Anderson is writing his sixth book on running and is co-directing two others marathons as well as coaching and managing a team of elite runners which he hopes to bring in funding for the large debt.