Larry Eder: Putting the fun back into athletics
By Larry Eder - 19 August 2009
This is my eighth World Championships that I have covered as a member of the media. I am fascinated with how the events are marketed and how competitors try to get their piece of the action.
Outdoor advertising is huge in Berlin. Samsung has strong Outdoor on major streets and around Berlin. On the streets around the major official hotels, there are street flags, some promoting the World Championshipss 2009, others promoting the IAAF (International Asociation of Athletics Federations) sponsors.
Adidas has been promoting their icons and product around the city. My favorite advert of the Championships is the icon ad that adidas does showing Jeremy Wariner, Veronica Campbell Brown, Tyson Gay, Blanka Vlasic, Christine Ohuruogu and Allyson Felix.
The Olympic stadium, probably the best stadium that I have been in for any of our eight World Champs or four Olympics, is the Berlin Stadium. The track is fast, the crowd is supportive and the stadium is massive. IAAF promotional signage has added to the experience, and the event has both grandeur and fun.
What is changing in our sport though is not the marketing, but the attitude. On Sunday night, six of the eight starters in the 100 metres final were clowning around. While Tyson Gay did not participate, he smiled and observed as Usain and company, even Asafa relaxed by joking around a bit. If that is what needs to be done to attract young fans, but also to teach them, that while our top athletes compete with no quarter given in races, they can get along - that would be a huge lesson. It also differentiates us from American professional sports, which, quite frankly, have hurt themselves with well-paid athletes.
We were told by Berliners that promotions really started about two weeks ago. The crowds in the stadium have been an average of 25-30,000 in evenings with 30-60,000 on evening sessions. The Sunday night had about 60,000, and most nights see 30-40,000 in the stands.
Signage in Berlin, at stadium, was provided for sponsors, from global sponsor, to local sponsors. It was done tastefully, but walking the stadium and the city with an experienced marketer at three global companies had these suggestions for our sport:
Nike, Reebok, Asics and Adidas all had hospitality and some local presence. Nike had promotional camp promoting Nike's global launch of the Lunar Glide. This was done in the centre of London. In walking much of the city, and taking public transportation around Berlin, with a global marketing professional, I asked him how he would shake things up in our sport, and here are a few things that he said:
· Each championships there are open seats. Give them to local clubs, offer huge discounts for families, groups and begin local promotions, strongly, six months out. Local Berliners told us that they were aware of the Championships about two weeks before the event.
· Move the events to mid-September, after the entire season, so that people in Europe are back from their vacations. This gives you more of a local support. While the crowds, I believe have been good, open tickets are in the 85 to 150 Euro a day tickets.
· In order to get more foreign fans, tie in with a global airline where IAAF provides discounts if fan purchases tickets and hotel. Good for the Local Organising Committee, good for local economy, good for sport.
· Local television has been very good. Kudos to Asics sponsoring Eurosport, using [hurdler] LoLo Jones as announcer. The round-up up each night and morning has been brilliant.
· Kudos to Media Press Centre. Suggestion, as is done in other global and professional sports, offer lunch each day at break, with chance for interview of famous past IAAF champions, for more media opportunities. Remember, bring the events, easily to the media.
· More than anything, the sport needs a global sponsor who is willing to promote on the global world. With the exception of Adidas, the other global sponsors could care less about North America, where the IAAF has left to USA Track & Field. Instead of appreciating the complexity, strength and opportunities there, the IAAF has allowed it to be a no mans land.
· Our sport is about competition, pushing fast times and distances hurt the sport with the non-track expert. The German crowds have been enthralled by the performances of their team, and have been wonderful with the other great athletes. While we have had one world record, the competitions, in each event, have been superb. Track & Field is all about the competition.
· Usain Bolt (pictured) is huge, and bringing in new fans. Races with Bolt, Gay, and crowd, four to six times a season draw crowds. Have them run 100 metres, 200m, 300m, 150-250m. Even have a handicap race where kids get to run against him in a relay. Make it fun. The sport will not be hurt by this, it will grow.
Again, our sport is in a place where we can grow globally or become an also sport. It is time to thoughtfully look at what we do well, and where we need to change. For the next four days, I will be, like you, watching the greatest sport in the world.
Larry Eder is the President at Running Network LLC and Group Publisher at Shooting Star Media, Inc. Sign up for his daily blog here.