This post was written by Peaked Too Early Guest Blogger, Bryce Williams
Track does not get the attention it deserves, plain and simple. Most people only tune into the running world every four years to watch the Olympics. And when they do, they are most attentive to the sprinting events. Ask any American who the best sprinter in the last decade is, and people would instantly name Usain Bolt. If you asked them who the best 5k runner was, they might not even be able to name one.
Yet, while track & field continually struggles to garner attention, other sports are thriving. I’m not just talking about the NFL, NBA, or MLB. Other racing sports, such as Horse Racing and NASCAR capture major audiences. Last year, during the Kentucky Derby, a whopping 18 million viewers tuned in to watch the world famous horse race.
Why are we obsessed with horse racing, yet we don’t share the same enthusiasm for runners? Horse Racing’s success isn’t because of some secret sauce. Why it succeeds is obvious: the culture of the sport. The price of admission to the Kentucky Derby starts at $70 and always sells out. Fans get to dress up, drink, and make wagers on which horse they think will win. If Track & Field adopted this same atmosphere, the number of fans would skyrocket.
Craig Engels mentioned in his interview that he fully supports treating track meets like a football tailgate. Imagine the energy that would result from a bunch of buzzed people who have money on a race. The atmosphere would be electric, and potentially could even lead to faster times.
In conversations with Matthew Centrowitz, Centro couldn’t emphasize enough how much adding sports betting would change the sport. While critics may argue that people would throw races, remember that throwing the game is possible in virtually every sport that people currently gamble on. And Lebron James isn’t out there throwing basketball games. There is too much at stake – contracts, integrity, sanctions – that would keep runners honest. Centro also mentioned how more people bragged about winning money off him in Rio than congratulated him. While this may be a slight exaggeration, the point still stands. When people have money on a game, it increases their interest. The American Gaming Association estimates that 26 million Americans wagered on the Super Bowl. It’s apparent Americans like upping the stakes.
Once spectators start tuning into track more, the athletes will subsequently be paid more. A very small number of athletes can make a living off the sport. Whereas professionals in other sports have multi-million dollar deals, the top few runners in each event would be lucky to make six figures. Popularizing the sport, and increasing the fan base is the way towards improving the sport for everyone.
There really is a simple formula to popularizing track & field. More beer and more betting means more spectators.
Bryce Williams is a guest blogger for Peaked Too Early.
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