By Gene Cherry
(Reuters) - American athletes will no longer need to travel to Europe to find high quality competition, organisers of an expanded U.S track and field series said on Tuesday.
The TrackTown Summer Series will conduct televised meetings at Stanford, California (June 29), Portland, Oregon (July 2) and New York City (July 6) in a bid to increase the audience ahead of the 2021 IAAF world championships in Eugene, Oregon.
A prototype of the series last summer in Eugene drew only 3,045 spectators.
"This summer series and other domestic opportunities in the United States are essential. We must build a fan base," USA Track & Field President Vin Lananna told a teleconference.
Only two percent of Americans list track and field as their favourite sport with pro football topping the chart at 33 percent, according to a 2016 Harris Poll.
More than $1 million will be awarded by the series to athletes representing teams for San Francisco, Portland, Philadelphia and New York City in scored competitions.
"I feel like it really represents the future of the sport," Olympic gold medallist Allyson Felix said of the team concept.
Felix and Olympians Sanya Richards-Ross, Bernard Lagat and Nick Symmonds will serve as general managers for the series with Felix hoping to compete as well.
While prize money will be less than what key athletes make at top European meetings, TrackTown organisers are hoping the lure of less travel will entice U.S. competitors.
"I used to hate leaving home and spending thousands of dollars" to base in Europe, Symmonds said.
Athlete representatives were also supportive.
"As the greatest track & field team in the world, we should definitely have more meets at home," Renaldo Nehemiah, who represents Olympic silver medallist sprinter Justin Gatlin, told Reuters.
"It (the series) will help developing and mid-range athletes the most, since many of the international meets are by invitation," Nehemiah added.
Said fellow agent Ray Flynn: "It will not replace the lure of the big European meetings in July for our top athletes but this series definitely gives everyone the option of staying home."
Another domestic series, the American Track League that was launched in 2014, will hold only a street competition this summer before returning to a full schedule in 2018, organiser Paul Doyle told Reuters.
Doyle said he found the TrackTown series encouraging.
"The simple fact that they have been able to take my vision and get investors behind it shows that I am not alone in believing the concept can work," he said.
(Editing by Larry Fine)