The Eugene, Cascades & Coast Sports Commission recently hosted a track and field roundtable. Representatives from the track and field and running community, including the Oregon Track Club, TrackTown USA, the University of Oregon, and more, joined with the Sports Commission and Travel Lane County staff to explore successes, challenges and opportunities to affirm Eugene as TrackTown USA and leverage the worldwide visibility garnered through hosting premiere track and field and running events.
The power of a strong brand identity is a beacon that not only draws visitors but transforms a place into a haven for residents to live, work and play. TrackTown embodies this community spirit and aims to leverage our rich track and field legacy to create a destination that pulsates with life every day of the year. It's crucial to recognize that a robust brand identity not only makes a community an exciting place to visit but also shapes it into a dynamic and fulfilling place for those who call this home. The intersection of a strong community brand and the essence of TrackTown USA holds the potential to foster a sense of pride, camaraderie and shared purpose among residents and visitors alike.
The roundtable group came together for a few hours to kick off a discussion, however, true transformation will require the broader community to come together to not only preserve its track and field legacy but to infuse new life into its veins, making it a thriving hub 365 days a year. Through our collective efforts, we can work toward making TrackTown not just a track and field capital but a community that exemplifies the synergy between a strong brand identity and a fulfilling lifestyle.
Eugene’s rich history around track and field was bolstered by the introduction of recreational running by coach Bill Bowerman 60 years ago, but the group recognizes that efforts must be made to keep the “legends” fresh by growing and connecting the fan base to the sport. Embracing the chance to view track and field as a united community with running is a way to achieve this objective. Recreational runners are not necessarily track and field fans, but they will quickly become fans once exposed to the excitement of world-class track and field competition. Participation in area road and trail running is increasing, as are the opportunities for youth to be actively involved as participants in middle-school track, youth cross-country and citywide all-comer meets, therefore it is incumbent upon each organization, team and individual to become ambassadors for this wider community vision.
Successes like the Endless Mileage Project, record attendance at the Eugene Marathon, OTC all-comers meets and the Great Donut Chase, and the Prefontaine Classic being ranked the best track and field meet ever, provide momentum for the community to build upon. Celebrating these successes is important, but the group recognizes that challenges remain and require a collaborative approach to overcome them. An aging cohort of officials is creating tension at all levels. This is not unique to our region, but successful events at Hayward Field at the University of Oregon have been built upon a foundation of having 120-150 officials and competition volunteers and therefore must be addressed to maintain the amazing experience athletes enjoy. This shortage of officials and volunteers trickles down to high school and community running events, which is why there are renewed efforts by many organizations, including OSAA and USATF, to provide broader opportunities to recruit and train the next generation of officials and volunteers.
While there are challenges around the need to administer great events, renewing civic pride in our running heritage is an opportunity that will also require individuals and organizations to embrace and lean into in new and fresh ways. Eugene's status as "Tracktown USA" is at risk due to other communities that are actively investing in infrastructure and branding in ways that will diminish our longstanding claim as TrackTown USA.
To build upon this initial roundtable meeting, the Eugene, Cascade & Coast Sports Commission will be working with our partners to create a priority list of opportunities and agree on who will be responsible for moving each opportunity forward. This partial list includes:
- Create a planning committee and vision for the larger “We are TrackTown” event for community stakeholders and diversifying the roundtable group
- Create an all-encompassing calendar that can live digitally, in local businesses and in large format in central, high traffic areas
- Event organizers to share stadium staging plans for coming events in order to find potential cost-savings
- Create a task force to develop a strategic communications plan (to be shared by all roundtable participants) and create a community branding toolkit each year for the lineup of events
- Create a working group for underutilized housing alternatives
- Determine the best method for data sharing, coordinating and maintaining the work
We will also be hosting community conversations with elected officials, the business community and track and field enthusiasts.
The Sports Commission is excited to work with the community to help revitalize TrackTown and keep the legacy torch lit.