Louisiana Marathon officials believe Baton Rouge has a chance.
Marathon directors said the city anticipates completing the necessary criteria to place a substantial bid, pitching Louisiana’s capital city to become the official site for the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials.
“As we started to talking to people and learning what is the criteria for being selected, we felt a little more comfortable, too, for us being able to put a good case together,” said Craig Sweeney, Louisiana Marathon’s strategic partnerships director.
A bid for Baton Rouge must be submitted in August and the site for the trials will be announced later in the year, likely near early winter.
A formal application featuring acceptable components of the standard criteria are required to make the cut before bidding progresses to more formal presentations after the August due date. Of the criteria: an attractive course, climate comparable to the Olympic’s location, past success in marathon’s or event’s in years past, and — of course — money.
“It’s putting it all together in a compelling bid so that the Olympic committee says, ‘All right. Let’s do it,' " Sweeney said.
Baton Rouge, through the Louisiana Marathon, has courted other race directors, including members from the Boston Marathon, to gauge the city’s ability to hold an event of Olympic marathon-trial magnitude.
It passed, said Danny Bourgeois, Louisiana Marathon’s marketing director.
“Oh, yeah,” Bourgeois, a Louisiana Marathon founder and state native, said. “What’s you’re trying to sell is that it’s safe, it’s entertaining and it can be supported, making sure the community’s behind it to make it work.”
The forepart of Baton Rouge’s pitch for the 2020 bid is its course — likely a three-loop track traversing LSU’s lakes.
“Because that’s a beautiful course and you could run it three times and finish either downtown in front of the capital or possibly finish somewhere around LSU at the Bernie Moore Track Stadium, or something like that,” Sweeney said. “You’ve got to have a nice course.”
It’s humid subtropical, wet and steamy climate might play in Baton Rouge’s favor because of its similarities to Tokyo — the site of the 2020 Summer Olympics — including matching topographies as near-coastal cities.
“So you have to look at the average temperature for the site itself,” Sweeney said. “Actually, our climate is very similar because this is a coastal city. As we started thinking it, we looked at the elevation profile of Tokyo and the elevation profile of Baton Rouge and said, ‘That’s kind of similar.’ ”
Sweeney said the Olympic committee will access Louisiana Marathon’s prosperity as an event in Baton Rouge, which runs Saturday and Sunday.
In 2017, Louisiana Marathon is expected to host more than 8,000 runners through the many multi-distance races this weekend.
“No doubt,” Sweeney said. “That’s another reason why it’s important for us to do a good job, put on a good race and continue to grow.”
But, Baton Rouge's largest looming complication is funding, arguably the most important item in need of a checkmark.
“The biggest thing that’s holding us back, well I don’t think it’s holding us back, but I’ll say we have some work to do, is getting the funding,” Sweeney said. “Getting the committed funding. And we’ve had lots of good conversations, but we’re going to have to get some commitments.”
The approximate total amount in need is $2 million, Sweeney said. Funds may be received via a blend of public and private businesses, while also including sponsorships.
Sweeney said the funding can come from multiple sources, but checks aren’t what Baton Rouge needs. It’s commitments to paying those checks.
“What I mean by that is there is a certain amount of committed funding that we need to be able to put in a compelling bid,” he said. “We don’t need anyone to right us a check, but we need enough organizations to commit to us for writing a check. We’ll know by May or June whether or not we’ll be able to have enough committed funds to make a compelling bid which is due in August.
“It could be one company for $2 million, or it could be 10 companies at 200,000 each,” he said. “So we’re three years out until the actual event … So, we’ve got time.”
As of Thursday, there’s still work to be done, Sweeney said.
But there's enough time to do it.
“Right now, we’re probably a third of a way there,” he said. “In April, May, I’d like to be 80 percent of the way there. That’s the other part, would I feel comfortable putting a number down in August knowing I’m only half of the way there? No. If I’m 80 percent there, and I’ve got a million and a half committed, and I know I need to get to $2 million. But I know I’ve got some time to get there, then we can raise the rest of the funds.”
Conversations about aggressively pursuing the trail bid have been had, Sweeney said. But, with the Louisiana Marathon in mid-January, talks have delayed. Sweeney expects the bidding process to pull heavier traction after the race date passes.
“As soon as February hits, once we get past the race in a couple of weeks, we’ll start re-opening some of those conversations,” Sweeney said. “And I’d like to have by May, have a pretty good foundation. ... From our comfort level, without the finances, do we feel like we can put together a really strong bid?”
“Yeah. We feel really strong about that."