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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Talking a Better Track Meet

There's a lot of discussion about this recently in the remarkably small track & field blogosphere. Scott Bush, Victor Gras, and SPIKES mag have all written on the subject in the last week or so.

There are a lot of ideas about how to appeal to the yung 'uns, as meet directors of some big European affairs are talking lights and music. But that strikes me as little more than smoke & mirrors. College and pro football use remarkably little of this and are quite popular in spite of it.

Bush talks about how to market a meet to get butts in the seats. But as Gras points out, if you do nothing to make people want to come back no amount of marketing will help.

My thoughts are as they have always been: track & field is an inherently interesting sport, and if you show it to people they will like it. But you must show it to them. Quite often we manage to pack 15 minutes of action into four hours.

Here's the thing. There is, and always will be, down time on the track between events. While it's always advisable to keep it to a minimum, you can't eliminate it. It's just the nature of the beast. That doesn't mean there's nothing going on at those times. In fact, there's often so much going on that it's hard to keep track of it all. Field events make the sport a three (or four or five) ring circus.

A good announcer is the key to making event a low-budget meet into something the fans like. I'm not saying this just because I'm an announcer myself...although I will work any meet for little more than a free lunch. A good announcer keeps people up to date with what's happening, lets them know a bit about each competitor, and lets people know how each result fits into a larger picture.

I do my homework for our City Championship. I get a wireless microphone so I can travel around to field events when time allows me. As I introduce each athlete, I mention any invitationals they have won and if they're a returning champion or state meet qualifier. Last year, when Erik Kynard was attempting seven feet, I directed the stadium's attention to him and you could have heard a pin drop--until he made it, when the place exploded. This year I hope to station a kid with a cell phone at each field event and have them post updates via Twitter so I can put that over the PA in between running events. Those can really make a big difference in team scores, which is what the crowd cares about more than anything else.

Information is the currency of sports fans. Without it, what they're watching is just a bunch of stuff that happens. Whether it is an announcer or a scoreboard or a program, they need to know things and how it all fits together into a narrative.


Douglas said...

Valid points. I still think it's vital for meet directors to find a way to fill those dead voids when nothing seems to be happening on the track. I don't know if it's adding in some foot races with local kids, or maybe just (as you suggest) lots of information, or if maybe the real key lies in truly managing the event so that things take place snap-snap in time instead of the usual, casual way. I think you'll need a lot of volunteers to pull it off, but it can be done.

The Track & Field Superfan said...

The most important thing is that meet organizers need to keep the needs of fans in mind, preferably foremost. Otherwise they won't have any.