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City calls off '04 Pittsburgh marathon due to fiscal crisis, loss of title sponsor

Race joins other big events as budget victim

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

By Lori Shontz and Timothy McNulty, Post-Gazette Staff Writers

Several months after UPMC officials told the city they would not return as title sponsor for the Pittsburgh Marathon, Mayor Tom Murphy announced yesterday that the race has been "suspended" for 2004.

The Pittsburgh Marathon takes off in 1986, its second year. In its 19 years, the race has twice hosted the U.S. Olympic Trials. (Post-Gazette photo)

"It's disappointing, but I understand it," said Larry Grollman, who has served as race director since 1996, when UPMC took over the title sponsorship from Giant Eagle. "Hopefully it will be a one-year hiatus, and something will be able to return in 2005."

The marathon, which has been held on the first Sunday in May since 1985, is the latest victim of the city's budget problems. They started in August, when Murphy laid off 730 workers after failing to get help from the Legislature on increasing city revenues. Murphy warned then that large public events that require costly police protection and cleanup by public works laborers could be killed.

The Richard S. Caliguiri/City of Pittsburgh Great Race was the first of those casualties, though volunteers rallied to hold a replacement race on Sunday. Replacing a 26.2-mile marathon is much more complicated. Police stopped traffic all over the city for the marathon, and city laborers painted roadway markers, erected barriers and cleaned up after it.

According to a statement from Murphy, UPMC's withdrawal cost the city not only the sponsorship money, but also expensive medical coverage for the event.

"While it will be very difficult to replace the time, organization, commitment and resources UPMC invested in this event, we are going to work hard over the course of the next year to identify a new title sponsor and to put together a world-class event for 2005," he said.

In its 19-year history, the Pittsburgh Marathon twice hosted the U.S. Olympic trials -- in 1988 for the women and in 2000 for the men -- and it hosted the U.S. men's national championships for three years leading up to the trials. Recently, it had made an effort to award more prize money to American runners, who were struggling on the world scene, while continuing to attract an international field.

"The Pittsburgh Marathon found its niche, and Larry Grollman and the staff did a good job with that niche," said Ryan Lamppa of the U.S. Track and Field Road Running Information Center.

"It was a partnership between the race and American distance running and U.S. Track and Field, and we've all benefited from that partnership. It elevated the race nationally. It was good marketing."

Lamppa said it was unusual for a major road race to be as closely tied to the city as the Pittsburgh Marathon has been and that despite problems in the economy, no other major road races have lost a key sponsor recently.

"It may be an example of a perfect storm," he said. "A combination of the economy, the budget problems in your city and losing the marathon title sponsor."

The city faces estimated budget shortfalls of $40 million this year and $81 million next year. Over the first half of the year Murphy variously lobbied for pension aid and alcohol, payroll and increased occupation privilege taxes to help fill the budget gap. When his lobbying proved unsuccessful as of August, Murphy announced the layoffs and budget cuts.

Currently state legislators and city civic and business leaders are studying plans to enforce city spending cuts by implementing a financial oversight board, which may or may not authorize new taxes.

Lori Shontz can be reached at or 412-263-1722. Tim McNulty can be reached at or 412-263-1542.

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