Valley Marathon Died Far From the Finish Line

Times Staff Writer

A misunderstanding between race organizers and an East Coast pasta company led to the cancellation of the inaugural San Fernando Valley Marathon, race director Bill Lovelace said Wednesday.

Lovelace said the race was scratched in September when Prince Macaroni Manufacturing Co. backed out as the major sponsor.

"We lost about half our funding in one fell swoop," Lovelace said.

A Prince spokeswoman this week denied that the company committed to funding the race. After meeting with race organizers in April, she informed them by phone and in a letter early in June that the company was not interested in sponsoring the race.

"It certainly wasn't Prince's fault that the race was canceled," said Tina Freeman, director of marketing for Prince. In a phone interview from the company's headquarters in Lowell, Mass., she said race organizers "just didn't move quickly enough to get (other) sponsors."

Lovelace, president of Basin Blues, an Encino-based running club that was organizing the Nov. 17 event, said he could not convince other sponsors to back the event.

"It was just too late," he said. "You can't go to a sponsor that late and say, 'How would you like to give me $20,000 or $30,000?' At that point, they can't get enough advertising out of it to make it worth their while."

There was no choice, said Lovelace, but to cancel the race. Organizers said it would have been the first marathon run completely in the Valley.

Lovelace said his biggest mistake was dealing with Prince's public relations firm in New York, rather than with the company.

"We were under the distinct impression, via the PR agency, that it was a sure thing," Lovelace said. "We had dinner with Tina around Labor Day. In our mind, it really was not clear until then that they were not involved."

Lovelace said he budgeted $40,000 to stage the 26.2-mile race. A beer company, a hospital and a soft-drink company had agreed to provide about $5,000 each, he said.

Race organizers were expecting at least $15,000 from Prince, said Lovelace.

"We had enough to cover the nut and, with the entry fees, to put on a really good race," he said.

When Prince pulled out, the race was doomed.

"Even if it was June," Lovelace said, "that's way too late. . . .

"I'm only now able to talk about it. I was really (upset) about a month ago. You couldn't even talk to me about it," he said. "You know, you spend 11 months working on something, trying to give birth to this (thing), and then these rascals. . . .

"But they did say they would provide pasta for the pasta party--like that's going to help pay the cost."

Freeman said she was surprised by Lovelace's comments.

"I really can't understand that he would think that I was stringing him along," she said. "He certainly had in writing that I could not be a sponsor. I don't understand why he kept on thinking that something was going to change. I feel badly that they didn't get off the mark and find other sponsors."

Freeman said Prince introduced its boxed pasta to the Los Angeles market less than a year ago. The company, which only recently began sponsoring 10K races in the Boston area, never seriously considered sponsoring the Valley marathon, she said.

"We're only in about 50% of the supermarkets in Los Angeles at this point," she said, "so we're really quite new to the market and we haven't developed enough of a franchise at this point in time to justify a sponsorship of a race.

"The timing of the marathon was not something we could capitalize on, or afford, for 1985," she said. "I'm really quite surprised that the story you're getting from Bill is what it is, because it was always understood what our problem was: It was a financial decision."

Lovelace said his group plans to try again next year.

"I must have, without exaggeration, about 400 to 500 inquiries from people who want to run the race," he said. "Tremendous support. I mean, an unbelievable amount of moral support. . . .

"I probably get five calls a week, minimum. And the last publicity was put out in flyers five months ago."

Lovelace wrote off his sponsorship problems as a learning experience.

"I was dealing with the wrong folks," he said. "I was dealing with the PR folks who have absolutely no power. . . .

"It was a very rude awakening. I learned a hard lesson."

Lovelace said he is "bitterly disappointed," but not discouraged.

"Absolutely not," he said. "I'm going to put this race on even if it kills me. It's going to happen."

Prince, he said, has even talked about being a sponsor next year.

"But I'm certainly not going to hold out for that," he said.

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