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McCourt’s group to run marathon

Times Staff Writer

A City Council committee on Wednesday approved Dodgers owner Frank McCourt’s bid to acquire operating rights to the Los Angeles Marathon from its current, Chicago-based owner.

The deal, which would shift the race from being an annual Sunday event to one held on a Monday, Presidents Day, is expected to win full council approval Friday.

Though financial details were not disclosed, the deal would include $537,391 to reimburse the city for money it is owed by the current race operator to cover costs generated by the last three races. Going The Distance, McCourt’s newly created race operating company, also would be required to reimburse the city for future race-related costs.

The shift to a Monday -- next year, the 24th running of the marathon would move from March 1 to Feb. 19 -- will upset some runners who’ve grown accustomed to it being on a Sunday but probably please religious leaders who have complained over the years that the race route kept many people from attending services.

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The change also will disrupt planning already underway at some of the 50 “official” L.A. Marathon charities that use the event to raise funds. But John Heathcliff, a spokesman for the official race charities, said that the nonprofits “have pledged to do everything that we can to make this a success.”

Russ Pillar, one of two local businessmen who would operate the race for McCourt, said that Going The Distance would not assume outstanding financial obligations amassed by Devine Racing Management, the financially troubled company that has operated the race since 2004.

Devine Racing owner Chris Devine did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment on whether proceeds from the sale would be pledged to making his company’s creditors whole.

The deal also marks the end of an era in that longtime L.A. Marathon operators Bill Burke and Marie Patrick no longer would have an equity or management stake. Burke said that the deal was “another step in the process of me separating from the race.”

Burke said that he remained associated with the Devine Racing Management marathon in Las Vegas.

City Council members who approved the proposed agreement during a short committee meeting at City Hall spoke enthusiastically about McCourt’s financial support for the race, which has remained in the shadow of such better-known races in Chicago, New York, Boston and London.

Councilman Bernard Parks, who last week asked city administrators to enter negotiations with Going The Distance on a new deal, said Wednesday that his concerns about the city’s ability to better oversee the race had been answered. “I want to thank the new owners for their vote of confidence in the race,” Parks said.

Councilman Greg Smith said that, under the current management, “we had a race that was going down, it was spiraling in the wrong direction.” He added that McCourt had “really made a commitment” to the race.

Pillar, who attended Wednesday’s meeting, said he would talk more about his race management plans after Friday’s council vote. McCourt has described the race as “an important civic asset that has the potential to have an even greater positive impact on the City of Los Angeles.”

The deal that will go before the full council Friday would transfer operating rights to Going The Distance. The new company would have exclusive rights to market the Los Angeles Marathon and use the race’s logo. In exchange, the company will pay an annual licensing fee.

Race observers said that training regimes won’t be affected by the shift to a Monday.

“I’m of the mind that most people over-train for the last two weeks before a marathon, so this is going to work out great,” said Amby Burfoot, editor-at-large for Runner’s World Magazine.

Burfoot said that the new race managers will get one shot to get the race right. “They’ve got to appeal to middle-of-the-pack runners,” Burfoot said. “Don’t try and out-Boston the Boston Marathon. Do the nuts and bolts stuff right.”

Jeff Vannini, co-owner of Phidippides Encino, one of Southern California’s premier running stores, said that “the only wild card I can think of is the weather . . . It seems to me that a move later into March might bring better weather.”

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greg.johnson@latimes.com


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