Penn Relays clearing hurdles

April 16, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

PHILADELPHIA -- Coming as it does in an Olympic year, the 1992 Penn Relay Carnival could set records on and off the track during its April 23 to 25 run at Franklin Field.

The long-term financial outlook, however, is not nearly so optimistic.

Asked about increasingly large revenue shortfalls stemming from a sluggish economy, carnival director Tim Baker said, jokingly, "We're already spending our children's inheritances." But the intended humor of that remark had an edge to it.

Two years ago, the Penn Relays listed modest operating expenses of $305,000, down from $355,000 in 1988. This year's budget, believed to be $400,000-plus, is not a matter of public record, but the shrinking dollar likely means that what is being bought in 1992 can't be bought at 1990's prices. The cost of doing business in track and field keeps going up.

"The economy is in terrible shape and it's impacted on many areas, including track and field," Baker said. "It's expensive -- very expensive -- to run a high-level competition such as ours. Your only options are to increase spending just to keep up, or cut back."

Olympic connotations notwithstanding, Baker might have had to scale back his operation this year were it not for such well-heeled benefactors as entertainer Bill Cosby and New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, whose ties to the Penn Relays go way back.

Cosby, a Temple graduate, has appeared in the Penn Relays as a member of teams representing his grammar school, junior high, two high schools (Germantown and Central), college, the U.S. Navy and Philadelphia Pioneers Track Club. He also has competed in the Philadelphia Masters division for older athletes.

"Bill and his wife, Camille, weren't able to make it last year, but I got a call from him earlier this year," Baker said. "I recognized his voice immediately. He said, 'Baker! Sorry we didn't make it last year, but we caught the Relays on television. Best thing we ever saw. Say, how much did we give you last year?'

"I said, '$150,000, Mr. Cosby.' He said, 'Well, put me down for the same thing this year.' "

Evidently, Cosby later decided to allow for inflation. When his accountant contacted Baker shortly thereafter, he informed him that a $160,000 check would be forthcoming.

Steinbrenner, also a former Relays competitor, pulled together $100,000 in 1990.

Even counting such generosity, Baker can guarantee such top-flight college teams as Texas Christian, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana State and Clemson only about one-third of their expenses for the Penn Relays. In other words, teams that travel to Philadelphia really must want to come here.

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