2015-04-09 / Around Town

Middletown Hesitates on Marathon

By James Merolla

In its own way, the process to procure permits to run a long road race through two Aquidneck Island towns has become its own marathon.

Middletown has delayed discussion of its approval of permits for the Newport Marathon to run through town until the dust settles on the issues involved with the race in Newport.

Two event management firms, Eident Sports Marketing and Gray Matter Marketing, applied for a Newport special events license to produce the marathon scheduled for Oct. 11. Eident has conducted the run for the past six years, but hit a bump in the road in 2014 when crowds damaged the dunes at Easton’s Beach. Newport fined Eident almost $5,000 for the infraction, and Gray Matter decided to pursue the license for the 2015 race.

In a close vote, the Newport City Council awarded the license to Gray Matter. Shortly thereafter, Eident announced that it would file ethics and open meetings complaints against the Newport city councilors who voted in favor of its challenger. Any complaints by Eident would presumably be filed with state-level entities.

At the April 6 Middletown Town Council meeting, the board voted to table the permit issue for the second time in two months, deferring to Newport’s next move.

“We are going to be making a motion to continue this. There are pending events and circumstances going on in Newport right now. I think it’s the prudent thing to do for the town of Middletown to wait for the fallout for the issues that are pending in Newport over this race to be resolved,” said Council President Robert J. Sylvia. “Then, and only then, will we be issuing a permit.”

Gray Matter Marketing’s Matt Gray attended the meeting but did not speak publicly. Interviewed later, Gray said, “As the event permit holder in the host city of Newport, we are confident that our special event permit will be granted in Middletown. We have course approval from [the] Middletown Police Department and have reserved the use of Sachuest Beach for parking with town management. We have done our due diligence and are excited to host this event in the fall.”

Despite Middletown councilors’ decision to continue the vote until their May 18 meeting, it is unclear what next steps that the town expects will be taken in Newport, as councilors there have made their decision on the special events license. Newport Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano confirmed in a telephone conversation that no further council action is anticipated on the marathon.

Meanwhile, Gray Matter has begun to accept online registrations for the Oct. 11 marathon. And, even though Eident has pledged to produce a competing event elsewhere, the company is advertising through its website that it will host the “Newport Rhode Races” on the same day. Asked about Eident promoting a Newport event for which it has no license, Gray said, “It is very concerning.”

Jason Paganelli of 918 Main St., Warren, voiced his own concerns over the marathon during the public forum session of the Middletown meeting.

“As a member of the running community, as a runner myself, as a race director, and as a business owner, I was watching what was happening in Newport," said Paganelli.” What happened, in my opinion, was an ethical lapse of judgment by the City of Newport.”

Paganelli told the council that race promoters have a small niche market, and that assets are hard to protect. “We sometimes spend years of our lives to cultivate something that does not come to fruition.” If a race is approved, he says it’s due to cultivating communi- ties and their officials for a long time.

“The Newport Marathon was an asset that was created over years by Eident Racing. A piece of their property was taken from them,” Paganelli told the council.

Whether enforceable property rights are implicated in the changeover of the license in Newport is an issue that has been questioned by others as well. Intellectual property attorney Keith Noe of Lando & Anastasi in Cambridge, Mass., told Newport This Week that there is most likely little trademark value in the “Newport Marathon” name itself. “While there may be trademark rights in a name, simple descriptive terms generally can’t be trademarked,” he said. “There’s no level of exclusiveness in this phrase.”

In previous years, the event’s name has varied with sponsorships. Last year’s registration was for the "UnitedHealthcare Newport Marathon,” while in 2012 runners signed up for the “Amica Marathon.”

Absent a situation such as one where Eident was required to hand over its runners’ database or where Gray Matter misappropriated logos or branding, Noe could not provide any other theories that would support a property claim.

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