SBD/October 15, 2012/People and Pop Culture

NYRR President & CEO Wittenberg Profiled In N.Y. Times Sports Cover Story

Wittenberg has been at the helm of New York Road Runners since '05
NYRR President & CEO MARY WITTENBERG yesterday was profiled in a 5,150-word sports section cover story by Macur & Belson of the N.Y. TIMES. Macur & Belson wrote NYRR has experienced “extraordinary growth in nearly every category” since Wittenberg took over in ’05, “a global leader in promoting the sport.” Wittenberg has “risen to the top of the sports world with it.” She has become “the face of road running in the United States and is one of the most influential women in sports worldwide, traveling the globe to attend events and court elite runners for Road Runners races.” The organization’s staff under Wittenberg has “sprouted to about 150 from 60, and its revenue has more than doubled.” But some local runners say that Wittenberg’s “expanding ambitions have eroded the ethos of Road Runners to serve athletes in New York,” adding that she has “destroyed the intimacy of what started as a modest grass-roots club for like-minded runners.” 

RUNNING A BUSINESS: Macur & Belson wrote, “In what seems to be a double-edged victory, more runners than ever are registering for Road Runners races, but some races sell out or are as crowded as the Coney Island boardwalk on a summer day.” Rising entry fees have “priced out lower-income runners and alienated some longtime Road Runners members.” Wittenberg said, “We’re not sorry we’re successful. To our critics, we say, we want you to come along.” Warren Street Social and Athletic Club head RICK PASCARELLA said, “If I were a corporation trying to make money, I would give her kudos. If I was a running organization trying to promote running as a sport, not physical fitness, I would give her bad marks.” Marine Corps Marathon Race Dir RICK NEALIS said, “Mary is running the Road Runners like a business and turned everything upside down. But is she just raising the price because she can? ... I guess you could say it’s ethical until the runners stop coming. You keep raising the price until you find a breaking point, but I don’t think that’s what we should be doing to the sport. If Mary was able to promote the sport with TV money or better sponsorships, that’s one thing, but I don’t think they need to do that on the backs of our runners.” Former Boston Marathon Exec Dir GUY MORSE said, “She’s very good at bringing up new ideas, sometimes ones that aren’t feasible or ones that we’re not ready for yet."

MANAGING TO PERFECTION: Macur & Belson noted Wittenberg’s “seemingly round-the-clock efforts have called attention to her management style.” Her “perfectionism, no matter how well-intentioned, can wear on employees.” Phone calls, e-mails and other correspondence “can go days without being answered, and meetings designed to solicit opinions often end with Wittenberg’s leaving and making her own decisions later, according to several former employees.” Part of the problem is that Wittenberg "tries to do it all and there is no chief operating officer who can make executive decisions in her absence, but instead a coterie of executives with different responsibilities.” NYRR General Counsel BOB LAUFER said that a COO was “unnecessary because managers were empowered to make key decisions.” Laufer: “I suppose there are things that she doesn’t need to look at this or that. But everything that comes out from the Road Runners, she feels she wants to be the final word on it" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/14).
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