Is there really any good that comes out of the annual track and field event we all know as Texas Relays? The question is often answered half-heartedly. The event is like a SXSW for running junkies and, just like the Austin festival, shares a love-hate relationship between out-of-towners and Austinites.
Although the Texas Relays bring in over 40,000 people each year, and generates an estimated $8 million for local businesses, the amount of road closures and obnoxious cheers and chants can be overbearing. Multiple streets were partially or completely closed during last year’s 83rd Texas Relays, and in 2007 there were unconfirmed reports of fights at Highland Mall.
Although the spectator sport has often been praised for its impact on young African-Americans, the event has caused much controversy throughout the years. Such was the case when Highland Mall closed their doors early after the fights that occurred. Many saw the move as racist; Austin NAACP President Nelson Linder spoke with the city council shortly after it happened and protested the mall’s closure.
“The city has never really embraced the relays,” said Linder in a 2010 article with The Statesman. “They have not promoted the event like they have Austin City Limits, the Republic of Texas Rally or South By Southwest.”
A lot happens in Austin, and in order for these events to continue, profit must be made off of them. Part of this is why festivals like ACL and SXSW are promoted so much: SXSW brings in $98.8 million dollars, 10 times that of Texas Relays.
Along with safety issues, many also believed that the closure was due to profiting issues as well.
“I think it was about commerce,” said Urban Music Festival organizer Donnell Creech in the same article.
Like all of the other events that occur in Austin, the Texas Relays will have to shape itself in order to become a more prevalent voice in the city, which it seems to be doing this year. The after parties offer an array of different entertainment: there will be artists performing throughout downtown, and this year’s Urban Music Festival happens to land around the end of the Texas Relays. Along with that is yourrelays.com, a website made to put the spotlight on events happening throughout the same time as the Texas Relays. The move hopes to make visitors feel more welcome, and to make the event much larger for following years.
Do the Texas Relays suck? Some say yes; some say no. Like all mid-to-large events in Austin, the Texas Relays have to deal with those who support and oppose it, but considering that they’re still here, they’re doing something right.