In the background of all the recent headlines about the sport, the IAAF, Sebastian Coe, talks of resetting world records (which I think would be fairly pointless) there has been one fact mentioned but not really discussed by the general media. It has been mentioned a few times over the last year but the fact that the age of the average viewer in athletics is 55 is not sustainable and the future of the sport is dependent on that age decreasing in the near future. It is a question that has been referred to by Sebastian Coe since he became President and is an area he has said he wants to tackle (assuming of course he gets the chance to) but this is certainly not going to be an easy task. Since the ‘glory’ days of the 1980’s there have been numerous doping scandals (not least the current one of course), not to mention a much greater availability of sport from all over the world notwithstanding many other forms of entertainment. However, questions could also be made that the marketing and presentation of the sport has been lacking for some time. Whatever measures are taken, it will take time for that trend to reverse but here are my suggestions for getting more young (which could be defined anywhere from young children to young adults) people engaged in athletics:
1. The most obvious one in the current climate, is of course to repair and improve upon the reputation of the sport (including the IAAF). The apparent lost generation of fans has a knock on effect for future generations in my opinion. How many parents who grew up watching football with their parents go on and do the same thing when they have their own children? Families sitting down to watch the Olympics need to believe in what they are seeing to make those memories mean more and more likely to inspire people of all ages to get involved.
2. Make the non-Olympic/Championship events mean more: I believe there is this general perception that the only events that mean anything (and therefore worth watching) are the championships, especially the Olympics. While I personally enjoy watching the diamond league, there is this perception that it doesn’t really mean anything. For the athletes there is prize money and possible wildcards but for everyone else it is just a bit of an event. Somehow the absolute best to need to be competing on a regular basis and have the incentives to do so. In tennis, this happens all the time as how many Djokovic/Murray/Federer/Nadal matches have there been over the last decade? This is especially true for the post-Bolt era. Usain Bolt running can grabs people’s attention just by him being himself, but once he retires, that factor will need to be replaced and the most likely option is top class competition on a regular basis in all events.
3. Modernise the television coverage of athletics: This is something that I think has needed to happen for a while. From what I can see, television coverage of athletics events hasn’t really changed for some time. Generally, this seems to affect the field events the most as sometimes you will only see a handful (if any at all) of the actual attempts unless something particularly exciting happens. This isn’t easy as events often overlap therefore making it hard to cover two or more things at the same time, however it would be nice that when you can hear a stadium erupt into a loud cheer, it doesn’t take five minutes to find out what led to that massive cheer. What surprises me is that rarely is it mentioned on television that there are live results services (for example the diamond league events, major championships, etc.), which are no means perfect but can help viewers if they are trying to understand and follow what is going on. More updates on other simultaneous events via commentary, on-screen graphics would help. In time perhaps there can be separate track and field viewing options (in the more high profile meetings) that people can switch between. Less talking when there is action to show would help as well (mainly speaking to the BBC on that one!)
4. Better scheduling of athletics events: As I mentioned earlier, there has never been such a wider choice of entertainment options not to mention a wide choice of live sport to watch. However, last year the British Championships were the same weekend as the Wimbledon’s finals which isn’t ideal. Even this year there are issues with the World Indoor Championships being later this year with less time before the start of the Diamond League than previous years. Perhaps Diamond League events should occur on the same day each week (perhaps a Thursday?), as opposed to a mix of weekends, some midweek. If people know that the Diamond League happens on a certain day, I think more casual fans might be more likely to check it out. Also better spacing out of the events so as to not put off athletes from competing at certain events could help.
5. More events in schools: Whilst athletes training is obviously important, I think it should be possible that athletes can make more school visits to talk about the importance of physical exercise but also about their experiences as a professional athlete as well as the dangers of taking the easy path. The people in the sport who are most likely to relate to younger people are the athletes themselves. Perhaps all Olympic and World Champions should be official ‘ambassadors’ of the sport in which these visits are a part of the role. It does of course happen at the moment but I believe it can happen more frequently and in more areas of the world. With any luck it can make people more conscious of taking PED’s and not having to lie to an assembly full of children but in these times that might be a bit much to ask.
It is fair to say that some of these ideas are dependent on the success of the re-structuring and recovery that is hopefully beginning to happen. If more sponsors continue to distance themselves from the sport and if television coverage follows then there will be less money in the sport and therefore fewer financial incentives to achieve some of these (and other) ideas. There are lots of areas that can be improved upon which involve the presentation of the sport. This list doesn’t even really get into the marketing aspect that much but hopefully the IAAF are seriously considering this element as well but they certainly have a lot on their plate right now. If the success of anti-doping measures and restoring trust in the sport and its governing body are vital for the immediate future of athletics, then the topic of this post is vital for its long-term future and in my opinion is just as important.
If anyone has any other ideas they would like to add, do please feel free to do so!
Until next time!