The oldest track & field blog on the internet

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Increasing Track's Popularity

Over at the T&FN board there's an interesting discussion about this subject, originally in response to an idiotic article (Five ways to save the fading sport of track and field). I'm of the opinion that sports fans are interested in competition above all else and if they get that from track & field they can't help but love it. There are some other ideas. osko2000:

I think the lack of interest is because the public doesn't know who the athletes are. Take any one of the many reality shows, for example, that populate cable and network television: What do those shows do? They allow you to get to know the characters and in knowing you start caring....

Track & field needs similar coverage. Coverage that will set the stage for the drama of the big championships, a show that can follow athletes as they balance training with life, a program that can show what athletes think of their competitors and how they handle the pressures that result from wanting to be the best.
This cat is serious about his project, but this has been done before: ABC's maudlin "up close & personal"-type crap they used to sell the Olympics to casual viewers and that real sports fans don't care for. I don't think this stuff helps at all. Rather, Spickard gets to the heart of the matter:
[W]e have a media who remains willfully ignorant, and no one who does cover track is passionate enough to cross over with the general audience enough to enthrall them. For instance, we can talk all we want about Americans only being interested in the Tour de France because of Lance Armstrong, but realistically it was the risk taking coverage by the former Outdoor Life Network and the passion of Phil Liggett that kept me coming back and will continue to keep me coming back to cycling. As a viewer, I was given insider status, rather than being talked to as if the announcers were afraid I'd change the channel.
The NFL, for instance, REALLY challenges us with pre-game shows, post-game analysis, and knowledgeable deconstruction of the game in process. And we eat it up and ask for more. The Tour de France does the same, albeit not with such wild success, but they have managed to get a significant portion of America talking about skinny guys on bikes who don't do a whole hell of a lot other than race and occasionally crash. Why? Rather than shy away from the complexities, the viewer is challenged and feels intelligent in the process, just like in the NFL. All the while, the media in charge of track and field shies away from this approach, afraid to risk, defeating itself at every turn.
(emphasis added)

I remember the coverage cycling got back in the 80s and early 90s; it was near impossible to find, and when you did it was treated like a freakshow. Track is in a far superior position and always will be due to its huge participation base. I don't think track is dying. Rather, I think the elite/professional end of the sport is low-hanging fruit, currently ignored, that someone someday will recognize as good and easy pickings. The serious fan's job is to nudge the decision-makers in that direction.

The internet has also made the serious fan a bit of a decision-maker himself. For example, a self-appointed bigmouth can write up his own opinions for everyone to see. I wonder if others could come up with a weekly self-produced highlight show on YouTube, in the style of "This Week in Baseball". To avoid copyright infringement it would have to be limited to a talking-heads type of analysis, but at least it could be smart analysis. If the Superfan could get a sidekick, it's doable.

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