Catching Up With: New York Road Runners CEO Mary Wittenberg

NYRR CEO Mary Wittenberg, shown in 2011, is attending her fourth Olympics
New York Road Runners CEO Mary Wittenberg traveled to London for both the women’s and men’s marathon races. Before traveling to her fourth Olympics, she spent the first week of the Games at home in the U.S., watching on NBC. She spoke with SportsBusiness Journal reporter Tripp Mickle about NBC’s coverage, the health of track and field in the U.S., and what sponsors are doing well in London.

What do you expect viewership for the marathon to be on NBC?

WITTENBERG: It’s 6 a.m. on the East coast and 3 a.m. on the West. As you know, the Olympic numbers have been sky high. NBC is doing a phenomenal job. It was the right decision, with so much live streaming, to package the evening show and have a global viewing audience at one time. People who are diehards and interested in one sport can find it and go deep. It’s been smart. We’ll see if the audience carries over to 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.

What will the Olympics do for track and field?

WITTENBERG: I’m hopeful (Jessica Ennis’ win, Greg Rutherford’s long jump, Mo Farah’s win, Galen Rupp’s silver) reignited the sport of track and field beyond road running. Athletics is running, jumping and throwing. It was heptathlon, the long jump and the crowning moment of (Farah) winning with an impossible weight on his shoulders. It was a message of, “If you train right, you can win, no matter where you’re from.”

How would you describe the atmosphere for track and field at Olympic Stadium?

WITTENBERG: For Mo (Farah’s) and Rupp’s last lap (Saturday night), that stadium erupted. It was a crescendo of an evening of high points. You could not hear yourself think. It was almost so noisy you went white. It was a non-stop roar for that last lap. I’m trying to think of what I could compare it to watching. Maybe the Women’s World Cup at the Rose Bowl and the USA’s final goal. That kind of noise. I think it may have ignited track and field’s rebirth.

What about in the U.S.? What will it take for it to catch back on there?

WITTENBERG: These recent articles giving track and field a hard time are phenomenal because we’re going to look back in five years and say, “That was another turning point.” Ten years ago we had a turning point in distance running. We were at the bottom of the bottom in the United States. We couldn’t even put an Olympic team together. When we scrapped bottom, it was a moment for our sport to rally together. We said, “This is unacceptable. We have to support our athletes.” We found a way to do it. We know the sport of track and field is not dead. We know we have great athletes coming along. We know there are great companies supporting it like Nike, Brooks, Asics, New Balance. We know what’s coming.

What companies are doing a good job with their sponsorship here?

WITTENBERG: Samsung. You see their products in all their advertisements. Coke, when you’re out at the stadium, is doing a nice job with the street teams and when you go to Stratford station, one world beat, tying the music and sports together.

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