As the board of directors for USA Track & Field, and the CEO for USA Track & Field, there must be a contrarian spirit about their own championships. First of all, the years in between championships make for some boring meets, and the length of the meets, from heats to rounds to finals, make it a challenge even for the geeks of geeks to watch the entire thing.
Starting back in 1998, with the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Meet in Edwardsville, Illinois (Metro St.Louis), it became increasingly clear to me that we needed to modernize our meet management to get out track fans. Meets would never start on time, athletes did not show up, local media did not promote, and we did not have TV for much of the time. My major memory from JJK was all of the cars driving into the fields by the track facility, there were at least 8,000 people and the stands were loaded! Some great, end of summer competitions were seen by the strong MO/Illinois track community, and hopefully, the inspiration for some more coaches, athletes and officials in our sport!
This elite season proved to us, that great meet management ( Congrats to Global Athletics & Marketing and Tom Jordan), great athletes, great fans and a two to three hour format lead to, you guessed it, great track meets! Heck, any of our three meets in North America could compare to the Oslo Bislett Games on June 15, which was quite disappointing ( except for one little world record!).
Now we get to the AT&T USA Outdoor Champs and the Finish Line Junior Champs, held concurrently in Indy this coming weekend! In truth, it is the best way to showcase the junior and open elite parts of our sport. It comes after state meets, NCAA’s, Nike Outdoor, Golden West, and athletes are either primed or burnt. Fans, who include parents, coaches, and track fans have five straight days of track and field to choose from.
Last year, due to the peculiarities of the summer weather, we had a fanstastic Friday night with sprint finals and distance finals. Just as the 100 meters ended, half of the crowd left. But the throw fans and the distance fans were treated to a great night of track and field. I was standing with Fast Trak Meet Director Ian Stewart and he commented on how challenging it was to do a national championship, but that there must be a way to shorten and focus an evening program on finals only.
And that is my wish. TV likes crowds. Sports fans like competition. The World Champs Trials, which is what the AT&T is this year, should have good crowds. The 2008 Olympic Trials are virtually sold out already. But we need to find a way to, even in these combined meets, focus the finals, one after another, in the evenings to attract even the casual track fan. There is not going to be sprints every night, but maybe it is a sprint fans night, Throw Fans nights, etc.
The challenge for the board and for the CEO is the size and stratification of USA Track & Field, from masters, to youth, from roadies to track, the sport has many disciplines. While the AT&T may be long, may be exhausting, it may also be the best way to get the most fans in one place at the end of a long, long season.
Watch for our daily blogs from Indianapolis, starting Wednesday night! For the Running Network’s detailed, event by event coverage of the AT&T USA Outdoor Championships at http://www.american-trackandfield.com/news/usoutdoorchamps07list.html