Each year with the last few weeks of April, as the ground begins to thaw and Des Moines emerges from its winter slumber, an event of long-standing tradition unfolds in Drake Stadium.
That event is the Drake Relays.
The three-day event and week-long celebration has a larger impact than impressive record breaking and alumni nostalgia, though. The 102-year tradition shines a national spotlight on the Des Moines community and provides a supplemental budget for the Drake Athletic Department.
“The Drake Relays is an event we can rally around,” said Brian Brown, the director of the Drake Relays. “It’s nationally known, it’s part of the spirit of Iowa and it’s over a century old. We have a lot of reunions that occur in that time frame. There are amazing, lifelong relationships built in the stands.”
Brown, Relays director since 2006, said he believes the Drake Relays is not only a time of year students love, but also a successful event because of the overwhelming support of the Des Moines community.
“It’s when elite athletes and teams come to our city,” Brown said. “They stay at our hotels, go to our restaurants, spend time amongst the Iowans and they are engaged with friendly people, people who understand and appreciate the fact that they are here in our city.”
Mark Kostek, the vice president of sports and development at the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau, agrees with Brown about the local recognition of Des Moines during Relays.
“The Relays are a nationally known and nationally prominent event,” Kostek said. “Many eyes from all over the world are on Des Moines.”
In 2008, the revenue generated within the business community during the Drake Relays was conservatively $4.5 or $5 million, Kostek said.
“That’s a pretty darn significant impact on the community,” said Kostek, who served as Drake Relays director for the five years prior to Brown.
The event brings over 30,000 people to the city for the event, with tickets for Saturday sold out for over 45 years in a row, Brown said.
Since Brown became Relays director, he has cited an increased community interest in the Drake Relays possibly because of the new venue created for local high school students to compete with the Friday night time slot added to the program.
“I knew it would draw a lot of the parents and brothers and sisters,” he said. “And they do qualifying so I knew they would want to be there for Saturday, which is the biggest day. That extra nine or 10 thousand people has been a big increase for the Drake Relays.”
Although the university sanctions a portion of the annual budget to pay for the Drake Relays, sponsors are procured to help offset some of the event’s additional costs.
Asics, a company specializing in running shoes, is the presenting sponsor of the event. The partnership was a logical choice considering the nature of the Drake Relays, Brown said.
A number of local sponsors, including Wellmark, Wells Fargo, Hy-Vee and Atlantic Bottling Company, also aid in the financing and promotion of Relays, said Paul Kirk, the assistant athletic director for media relations at Drake.
“Without that kind of community support, we wouldn’t be in the position we’re in right now,” Brown said.
As well as generating income within the community, the Drake Relays also helps to finance facets of the Drake Athletic Department. Funds are used particularly for sports, such as tennis and golf, that do not generate much revenue on their own, Kirk said.
“We know that they’re going to take more in operations than in the actual revenue that’s gained,” Brown said. “We don’t want to take away from those experiences.”
Through the three-day display of athleticism, other students are given the opportunity to participate in collegiate athletics. The longstanding tradition of the Drake Relays has intertwined the Drake athletic community with the people of Des Moines in a partnership that helps to keep the event alive.
“It’s just that this event has survived,” Brown said. “And not only survived, but has become a nationally recognized event primarily because of the local community’s pride and support of the event.”
Impact of Relays
- 14,500: Number of seats in the Drake Stadium
- 6,000: Roughly the number of athletes participating in the Drake Relays
- $4.5 – 5 million: The amount generated as a result of Relays at Des Moines businesses
- +30,000: The number of people who attend Relays during the three-day event
- 100: The number of spectators who attended the first Drake Relays in 1910
- 231.71: The number of seconds it took to run the fastest mile (or 3:51.71 minutes), set by Alan Webb in 2007
- $85: The cost to see all the Relays track and field events
- 102: The number of years that Drake Relays has been around