Is there room in this town for two major marathons?
Businessman Frank McCourt is moving the Los Angeles Marathon to Boston. Not the race itself, of course. Instead, it’s the ownership that’s shifting here. He is donating the organization that runs the marathon and affiliated events to a family foundation overseen by a cousin, Brian McCourt.
Frank McCourt has made waves here before. He once controlled a swath of what is now the Seaport District and made an unsuccessful run at buying the Red Sox. He then went to the West Coast and acquired the Los Angeles Dodgers instead in 2004, and later added the marathon in that city to his holdings.
The McCourts are converting the for-profit marathon business to a nonprofit, a donation that was to be feted Friday night during The McCourt Foundation’s annual gala at the Boston Harbor Hotel.
This gift could catalyze the McCourt foundation, which has about $1 million today. Think new revenue and event management expertise. The scale to expand its events work and charity well beyond Greater Boston.
The West Coast race already shares some of our DNA. McCourt says the current LA Marathon was shaped in part by the Boston Marathon’s point-to-point course. He has fond memories of growing up in Watertown and traipsing over to Comm. Ave. to cheer on the runners on Patriots Day. As a father, he continued the tradition, heading to Kenmore with his own kids in tow.
McCourt marvels at the marathon’s power to unite a community, an annual ritual connecting friends and strangers. He wanted to recreate that journey when he bought the Los Angeles Marathon in 2008 and and later rejiggered the course. Instead of following a loop, the 20,000-plus runners now wind their way from the baseball stadium to the sea, ending in Santa Monica.
McCourt sold the Dodgers in 2012 for $2 billion, at the time a record for a sports franchise. But he held onto the marathon, eventually adding other road races and similar events, now bundled together as Conqur Endurance Group. McCourt says he always intended to make the marathon a nonprofit enterprise, much like its inspiration back in Boston, the BAA. But he waited until the operation was financially self-sustainable. That day, he says, is finally here.
So McCourt rang his cousin back in Massachusetts. Turns out, bringing Conqur into the fold dovetailed nicely with Brian McCourt’s vision for the foundation. The group raised more than $700,000 last year, primarily for neurological research at Mass. General and the Brigham. But its stated mission is broader: building a healthier world. Toward that end, Brian McCourt envisions a platform that helps other social entrepreneurs create their own events, for their own personal causes.
Frank McCourt has been a major benefactor, but this is a new kind of gift. Conqur’s 12 employees bring additional skills and heft. The McCourt foundation currently gets by with a three-person staff, and hosts a 5K race and an annual South Shore bike tour. The hope: to become a springboard for like-minded events, starting in Boston and LA and potentially spreading across the country.
Frank McCourt remains busy with an eclectic empire that he runs through McCourt Global, his New York-based holding company: real estate, finance, a prestigious equestrian competition, the Marseille soccer team in France.
Then there’s this merger in his old hometown. If all goes as planned, it will set the stage for a new generation of races, rides and other events. Maybe, eventually, some new traditions. Despite the ways we connect through technology, screen time can be isolating. From McCourt’s perspective, the rituals that make up a community’s unique rhythm seem more important than ever.Jon Chesto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.