RUNNING ON EMPTYHOW CLOSE IS THE DENVER INTERNATIONAL MARATHON TO THE FINISH LINE?
Back on October 3, when the Denver International Marathon was still just a race and not a synonym for negative balance sheets, Leslie Fuller, who helped organize the event, was ecstatic. "It was fantastic," she says, recalling her feeling on the day of the race. "It was one of the happiest days of my life."
Now, three and a half months later, Fuller is perplexed. "I don't get it," she sighs. "I swear to God I don't. How this happened, I don't know."
Fuller is not alone: It is still unclear how the first Denver International Marathon veered so far financially off course. Rumors began circulating in December among Denver police officers that they were not going to be paid for monitoring the event. Three weeks ago Jeffrey Fryer, DIM's executive director, confirmed that he did not have the money to pay the cops the $47,000 he owed them. In fact, he couldn't even write checks to the race's winning runners, who are owed $50,000 in prize money.
Since then, it turns out that the cops and the runners aren't alone. Fryer and Denver International Marathon Inc., a for-profit corporation, sport a long list of creditors who provided services and products for the race and who have yet to see any reimbursement. "Everyone I talked to who he might have paid, he hasn't," says Creigh Kelley, owner of BKB Ltd., which organizes and promotes many of Denver's road races.
Fryer, who did not return calls from Westword, has not been accused of any crimes. Nor has anyone directly accused him of mismanagement. Still, an examination of DIM's finances and some educated guesswork--which suggest that Fryer collected, or had access to, an estimated $400,000 in cash--have people connected with the race wondering: Where did all the money go?
By now it is clear that Fryer, a trained accountant, acquired a raft of financial problems well before he hit the wall with the DIM. According to federal court documents filed in Los Angeles, Fryer voluntarily sought protection under bankruptcy laws in 1991, listing $1.2 million more in debts than he had in assets.
Moreover, he twice has sought protection under federal bankruptcy laws over his connection with a building on the corner of Broadway and Speer Boulevard, once in 1985 and again in 1992. The building is owned by KM Developers Ltd. Fryer, who owns a 6.2 percent share of KM, was president of Management Advisory Planning, the managing partner of the development company. The bankruptcy is pending.
Despite his ruffled financial past, Fryer seemed to have the experience to stage a successful marathon. He handled the books for the Los Angeles Marathon for four years. (He was fired in 1991. William Burke, president of the L.A. race, now says that Fryer simply was canned in a moment of anger. "It was an error on my part to discharge Jeff," he says. "I have since apologized to him.")
Fryer also assembled a top-notch team of consultants and managers to organize the Denver venture. As a result, those who signed contracts with him to provide services for the race say they had no reason to suspect he was planning the event with anything but good intentions. "My experience with him up to and including the marathon weekend was nice," says Kelley, who announced the race on Channel 9. "The guy doesn't set off alarms."
In the days leading up to the race, Fryer still projected an image of control and confidence. Recalls Karen Verkutis, owner of Corporate Images, the company that designed DIM's logos and made the official T-shirts: "Within a week of the event he told me that he was going to pay me."
In fact, Leslie Fuller says she didn't learn the money wasn't there until more than a month after the race: "An athlete called me sometime in early November and asked me if the drug tests had come back. [Runners can't collect prize money until they pass the tests.] I told her no, not yet. But then she called me back after she had called the USA Track and Field Federation, and told me that the results had been mailed."
Fuller continues: "I then called the federation and asked for the Federal Express receipts. And the results had come back--on October 26. So I called Jeff, who was in New York for that marathon. He said, `Oh, I didn't know about that.' When I flew to New York I took the results with me. And on Saturday, November 13, we had a confrontation.
"We were riding back to our hotel on the subway. I told Jeff that I was having a difficult time handling this front we were having to put up--you know, that the money would be there. And I asked him, `How do you do it?' because he was doing it remarkably well. Finally, I told him: `I will continue to take phone calls. But if it is from the elite athletes [who were owed prize money], I will transfer it to you.' He said if I did that, I wouldn't be doing my job, and so to clear out my desk."
Fryer's inability to pay his contractors is particularly confusing because the Denver International Marathon appeared to have been adequately financed. In addition to numerous in-kind contributions, Fryer had collected a pile of cash.
For starters, Fuller says that Fryer and his California accounting partner, Greg Reneau, each anted up $50,000 in start-up money. She adds that another friend (whom she refuses to name) added a $100,000 line of credit to the pie.
Outside sponsors contributed still more money. Fuller says that local publisher and philanthropist Barry Hirschfeld kicked in $50,000 (Hirschfeld, through an assistant, declines to answer questions). Public Service Co. of Colorado added another $15,000 (plus numerous in-kind contributions). The Colorado Allergy and Asthma Clinic wrote a check for $15,000.
Entry fees that Fryer collected from runners were added to that $280,000. According to Fuller, 2,810 runners ran in the marathon. Of those, she calculates that 90 percent paid the $26 early registration fee. The remainder paid $40, making the grand total for marathon entry fees between $75,000 and $77,000 (some entry fees for big-name runners are waived).
The day's events also included a five-kilometer run in which 1,000 people participated, Fuller says. Of those, approximately 60 percent paid the $15 early registration fee, with the remainder paying $20. That would make the total take from the 5K entry fees about $17,000.
Finally, sources say that Fryer likely collected additional money from the sale of race merchandise and from fees charged to companies and other race organizers who set up booths at DIM's expo. All of which means that, if Fuller's figures are near accurate, Fryer had accumulated, or had access to, close to $400,000.
Tracking where that money went is difficult. A big reason for the uncertainty is that DIM's books are being handled by Fryer's California accounting firm. So the bottom line is that only Fryer knows what Fryer spent.
Still, some of Denver International Marathon's expenses are clear. Fryer paid the city of Denver a $25,000 fee for agreeing to host the event, for instance. And Fuller estimates that another $75,000 went to pay the salaries of DIM's hired support staff.
Other costs are harder to pin down. Fryer used a number of consultants to help him organize the run. Fuller is unsure of what their fees came to. But Kelley says it is not unusual for a promoter to spend $10,000 to $20,000 on consultants' salaries for a race of DIM's size.
Another hazy expense of organizing a race--especially a new race--is the cost associated with telling people about it. Typically this is done by advertising in running publications, schmoozing with local supporters and setting up information booths at running expos at existing races. Participating in expos requires transporting staffers to the events, so the costs can be high.
Fuller pegs DIM's travel and promotion budget at $10,000. Kelley, however, says that is probably a lowball. He says legitimate promotion costs could be as much as double Fuller's calculations. And, he adds, Fryer could easily have piled up an additional $10,000 in printing and advertising costs.
Finally, there are the costs that only Fryer knows for sure. These include supplies and miscellaneous bills, from the mundane (the daily costs of running an office) to the extraordinary (the estimated $2,000 to pay for the Playboy bunny who ran in the race). Fuller says that DIM also purchased a new computer system, but she has no idea what it cost.
Yet, even assuming that the Denver International Marathon compiled higher-than-average costs, the amount of money already spent appears to be considerably lower than the amount collected. If all the payments Fuller knows about, or Kelley projects, are added together, they still come to right around $200,000--in other words, a lot less than what Fryer collected.
To be sure, Kelley says there are a bundle of other costs associated with organizing and carrying off a world-class road race. Yet they aren't on Fryer's balance sheet for a simple reason: They have not been paid.
At the top of the list are the Denver police officers and the professional runners, each of whom are owed just under $50,000. Verkutis, of Corporate Images, says Fryer and DIM still haven't paid the $43,000 she is owed for her work. "If he had tried to pay me something, I'd have a different attitude," says Verkutis. "But he never tried to, and that's what makes me crazy."
Further down the list of the unpaid is the Radisson Hotel, which hosted the pre-race carbo-loading bash. The hotel's comptroller, Susan Maxy, says that bill came to $13,731.20.
Next is Able Sign Company, which did a rush order for DIM, printing up banners and other signs. It is owed approximately $5,000, according to the company's owner, Morris Vogel. Two out-of-state companies that provided official timing and placing for the race each are owed similar amounts.
A local printer, C.F. Hoeckel Company, is out $4,000. "We didn't do a credit check because of the sponsors," explains owner John Dawson. "We thought they had the money." Finally, there is Creigh Kelley himself, who Fryer promised a free trip to Mexico in exchange for his expert television analysis of the race (Mexicana Airlines was a marathon sponsor).
With only eight months to go until the 1994 Denver International Marathon, now is the time that Fryer should be preparing for the second annual event. Yet DIM's future--indeed the future of any world-class marathon in Denver--is on shaky ground.
Fryer has a multiyear contract with the City of Denver, and sources say he currently is attempting to line up sponsors for next year's event. Yet, when the hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills still outstanding from this year's race are added to the costs of a whole new race, it is far from certain that Fryer can pull it off.
In fact, if he cannot at least come up with the money he owes Denver's cops soon, City Hall won't even give him a chance. The city attorney's office has notified Fryer that he has until February 22 to pay the tab, or else lose the rights to stage future marathons in Denver.
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