I watched both the Texas Relays and the Arcadia Invitational on my computer this weekend via live streaming. Kudos to both meets on providing this service. It made for a great weekend of track and field.
As I watched both meets, however, I was taken by something that has bothered me for quite some time now – attendance. From what I could see of the stands in Austin, there were many gaps and attendance was sparse – unfortunately not uncommon at a large majority of meets here in the states. On the other hand, the stands looked pretty full in Arcadia. Why? After all Texas had the “better” athletes. They had college, university and professional athletes in attendance while Arcadia only had high school competitors.
So how does a meet with just high school athletes outdraw a meet with collegiate and professional athletes? Confusing? Not really. It’s pretty simple. In Arcadia the “best” high schoolers in the state were in attendance. While in Texas the best pros were not – and when it comes to parting with their sporting dollars Americans want to see the best!
If you want proof check out Austin when the Texas State High School Championships come to town in May. The stadium will be packed and rocking with thousands of Texans who will show up to see the BEST that Texas high schools have to offer. The California State High School Championships will get the same treatment in June – packed stands and raucous fans. You see there IS lots of love for the sport here, but fans have been conditioned to see the best perform when they pay their money! Be it the Texas Relays; last year’s New York stop on the Diamond League, or the Carson meet in Los Angeles or several other “big” meets in the U.S., ticket sales are hard to push when the fans believe they are getting less than what the sport has to offer.
Why? Because we live in a society where the general populace is “star struck” at a time when every other sport serves up their stars 24/7! Sports fans expect to see their favorites (ie the best) when they go to an arena or stadium. Buy a ticket to an NBA game and you’re guaranteed to see Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Derrick Rose or Kevin Durrant. NOT just during the playoffs, or during a championship series, but every game their teams play. Nor does Kobe sit out the games against the Bulls – waiting to go head to head against Derrick Rose in the playoffs. Or games against the Celtics or Heat or any other top team or player. As a matter of fact unless he’s injured (and injured badly) you will see Kobe in every Lakers’ game against every team and every other top player. Ditto Lebron, Durrant, and Rose. It’s what sells tickets and fills seats. And it’s the NBA’s greatest marketing tool – advertising its stars and the multitude of matchups it parades before the public ALL season long!
The same goes for the NFL, MLB, NASCAR, and golf – all regular staples on television. Because their best are regularly on display – guaranteeing that fans will be watching and advertisers’ dollars will reap the benefits. If you tuned in to gold this weekend you got a full dose of Tiger Woods. Watch NASCAR and you’ll see Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, and Tony Stewart.
In contrast track and field can only guarantee it’s stars will be on display at the Olympics or World Championships! We can’t even guarantee attendance at our National Championships unless spots to a major championship are on the line! THAT is a major problem – a problem that the sport MUST address. Track cries about not being able to attract dollars, yet all you have to do is take a look at any of the sports mentioned to see that there is lots of money out there being spent on sports in the way of advertising and sponsorship. The issue is being able to guarantee that the money gets and adequate “return”.
The way to do that is to make people watch. The way to do that is to have your best athletes competing. This sport MUST figure out how to do that with some regularity. Because the scattershot appearance schedule of track and field’s best is just not getting it done! Why is this so hard and how do we fix it? I have some ideas on both fronts that I will put out there while we are waiting for our top athletes to start competing!