The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

Marketing the Face of Track and Field

Aug 6th, 2019
4:37 pm PDT

Between 2008 and 2017 many people considered Usain Bolt to be the face of track and field. The athlete that the IAAF built their promotion around. The sprinter they proclaimed to be the “clean” representation of track and field, because the IAAF felt that such a representation was needed. 

When Bolt said that it was time to retire, Seb Coe basically said, “woe is me whatever will we do.”. Because really the marketing plan for this sport has been centered around the idea of the sport having a singular face! I’m really not sure why, given the diverse nature of the sport itself. Running, jumping, throwing. Men and women. Speed and distance. Athletes from every part of the planet! We’re really a sport that has the ability to attract a very diverse audience if marketed correctly! 

Bolt’s retirement couldn’t have come at a more opportune time however, because just as he retired a huge crop of young talent emerged. His retirement season of 2017 was the emergent year of Noah Lyles, Michael Norman, Sydney Mclaughlin, Rai Benjamin, Abderrahmane Samba, Salwa Eid Nasser, Jakob Ingebrigtsen, and Armand Duplantis! The talent pool has only expanded this year with Grant Holloway, Sha’Carri Richardson, Brianna Williams, Donovan Brazier, and Divine Oduduru exploding onto the scene. With established veterans like Christian Taylor, Will Claye, Justin Gatlin, Shelley Ann Fraser Pryce, and  Nigel Amos maintaining superb standards of performance the sport has not one, but a plethora of stars to market as the collective faces of the sport!

I’m not sure that the IAAF or USATF knows what to do with so much talent at their disposal. After all, both are geared to support only one star at a time. But enter the new world of social media, and these youngsters are more than capable of handling their own self promotion – and they’re doing a wonderful job! Every day I see dozens of tweets, videos, and other forms of media promoting athletes and events related to the sport! 

And meets themselves full of not just great performances, as these young people are already among the best the sport has seen, but their invective exuberance. The joyful dances of Noah Lyles and Abderrahmane Samba, and electric smiles of Sydney McLaughlin and Grant Holloway put a very inviting face on this sport. 

This is what we need, a multifaceted multi-face of the sport! Not a single face, but multiple faces that appeal to various groups of fans and potential fans. To those to whom speed is appealing and also to those that like distance racing and strategy. To those that like the elegance and drama of the jumps, and those that enjoy the brute like strength of the throws. American faces, Asian faces, African faces and European faces. We have the ability to present ALL of these things to the sporting public. If the leadership of the sport puts together a proper marketing plan! Which means a departure from the single athlete marketing matrix of the past, and adopting something more current that takes advantage gfof the sports multifaceted makeup!

To accomplish this, however, the sport must make some changes. The goal of which would be to INCREASE access to track and field competitions both domestically and globally. The general public needs as much easy and free access as possible to see what this sport and it’s athletes are all about. To that end some things that I would like to see are: 

NBC must STOP locking American viewers out of telecasts and streaming of events from other parts of the world – especially those where NBC has NO presence! They should be happy that Americans have the ability to follow the sport as it builds brand and actually would help grow their domestic audience.

Companies that stream track and field should have to negotiate a fee with either the IAAF and/or the National governing body for their service. In some instances maybe even the directors of directors meets. Charging individuals should be prohibited. Streaming should be as widely available as possible given that the greatest consumption of media today is via streaming. We need the greatest availability possible to attract new fans to the sport and build brand.

“Telecasts” should take advantage of “split screens” and multiple channels as often as possible to present the maximum amount of the sport to the public. Individuals should have the ability to choose what segments of the sport  they choose to view. 

Telecasts should be accompanied by streaming that falls outside of the “television windows” to provide maximum viewership of the entire meet.

Social media “windows” should be used during telecasts to give viewers the opportunity to comment in real time about the meet AND to see any use of social media by athletes during the meet! Twitter, Instagram, et al. This would give a participatory feel to meets for the audience and engage younger viewers in their way! It would also provide a way for both athletes and audience to interact. Track is unique in that there is actually down time for athletes during a competition. The sport has an opportunity to use this in a very positive way by connecting the viewing audience and the athletes!

Building the brand of track and field should be the primary goal of the sports’ leadership. Not trying to figure how many events they can eliminate and still run a meet! There’s nothing wrong with the sport the way it is. The idea that viewers attention spans is mythological (illogical) when you consider how long most televised sports are – baseball, football, basketball, soccer, golf, hockey, gymnastics and swimming come to mind! The problem is presentation. We do the equivalent of serving a prime rib dinner on the lid of a garbage can – we do our best to make it unappealing! When in reality we have many top level athletes and events to present to the public. We are the center piece of the Olympics for a reason. We need to start acting like it. 

USATF Championships Review

Jul 31st, 2019
1:57 pm PDT

For four days America's best track and field athletes got together in Des Moines Iowa to decide who would represent the US at the World Championships. Lots to say, some good, some bad, so let's start with the bad. I'm not sure what the selection process is for championship sites, and I understand that this meet is going to be held in the summer, but how many times have I seen this meet affected by rain? So on Championship Sunday we're hit by rain yet again Read More...

USATF Preview

Jul 16th, 2019
11:10 am PDT

We're a little over a week from the USATF Championships. No more competitions to watch. The time has finally arrived. And after months of meets - we still don't know much! With Worlds being so late, some athletes have been very cautious. Then there are the collegiate kids that have already peaked for a championship Read More...

Can the US Top the Podium After A Decade

Jun 13th, 2019
12:54 pm PDT

Ten years. A decade. A lot can happen in 10 years. Ten years ago, the iPhone made its debut - now no one can remember how we lived WITHOUT smartphones. Before that Blackberry and Nokia ruled the cell phone world, and if you were really cool you owned a Razr! Young people today can't remember either of those names with a market dominated by iPhones and Galaxy's Read More...

NCAA Championships Review

Jun 10th, 2019
8:40 am PDT

It's June, and there have been track meets being run all spring. But the weather has been horrible up to now, and results have been scattered. It seems like every meet has been "so-so" with the occasional "wow" race thrown in. Like we had Michael Norman scream 43.45 at MtSac. Then Noah Lyles and Christian Coleman square off at 9 Read More...

Grant Holloway – How Many Subs?

Jan 29th, 2019
6:45 am PDT

There are a LOT of exciting young  track and field stars today. Sydney McLaughlin, Noah Lyles, Mondo Duplantis, Gabby Thomas, and Michael Norman to start a list. After watching this past weekends activities however, it hit me that perhaps the most talented athlete out there may be sliding under the radar!  I remember when Carl Lewis first emerged Read More...

How About a Real World Championships?

Jan 23rd, 2019
11:32 am PDT

It's funny that one of the first things written about the sport in 2019 is about the addition of mixed relays to the World Relays event and to the World Championships. Funny, ha ha, in that they are being added ostensibly to make the events more interesting for "fans".  How about we make the World Championships really interesting by having it be about THE BEST track and field athletes in the world? My point being that it's time to have a true world event and not the knock off of the Olympics that we've been running since 1983 Read More...

CAS Needs to Get This Right

Jan 5th, 2019
7:45 am PDT

Perhaps the most important decision for the sport this year, will be made in March when the Court for Arbitration in Sport (CAS) makes a ruling on the Caster Semenya case.  This matter has been ongoing for the better part of the 20-teens, with the IAAF ruling Semenya ineligible to compete because of testosterone levels much higher than those of women Read More...

Ten Predictions for 2019

Dec 31st, 2018
8:55 am PDT

I'm going to start the new year right. One, I'll be posting more. Not as much as I used to because I'm coaching. But a lot more than I have since my illnesses/surgeries. That said, I'm going to start with my predictions for 2019 - the first being that it's going to be a fun year for track and field. We've got a whole lot of new talent all over the track (& field) and many will be competing in their first World Championships Read More...

Six Matchups I’m Looking Forward To in 2019

Nov 24th, 2018
3:32 pm PDT

  Ok. The 2018 track season is well behind us now as cross country and marathons dominate the landscape. As a matter of fact, the indoor season is right around the corner, which means that many athletes are already back grinding in preparation for the first of the upcoming three Championships ahead in this next major cycle Read More...