Athletes Lawyer

Keeping You In The Game

U.S. Track & Field has a popularity problem

On Behalf of | Aug 31, 2022 | Current Events |

We recently wrote about the U.S.A. Track & Field (USATF) dominated the first world championships held on U.S. soil in Eugene, Oregon. The team won 33 medals in its best-ever performance, causing a lot of Olympic optimism for the team in Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028.

About the only thing missing from the performance was a record audience. The United States is one of the biggest markets for running in the world, with 50 million avid runners and nearly every high school in the country having a team. Unfortunately, elite-level competition doesn’t draw audiences here as it does in Europe.

“We need to be in this market,” said Sebastian Coe, the president of World Athletics, the global governing body of track and field. “It’s important. It’s not punching its weight.”

It is also notable that Europe’s Diamond League circuit draws many athletes, including Americans because those meets are where the money is.

TV numbers were low

According to the New York Times, the final weekend of the 10-day event drew a little more than 2 million watchers to NBC. On the other hand, the British Open 3.3 million on Saturday and 4.5 million on Sunday. While the Open is a major, pro golf is standard weekend viewing during the summer months on what used to be called broadcast television. The track and field worlds bounced around among Peacock streaming and cable channels and then appeared on NBC during the weekend.

Not great television?

Anyone who watches Olympic track and field or attends high school and college meets knows that things are a little chaotic:

  • There are a lot of preliminary heats before the final.
  • There are often multiple events held at the same time.
  • The worlds were ten days, morning through evening, so fans must pay close attention to see their favorite events live.

A new initiative

As a lead-up to Los Angeles in 2028, World Athletics (which is in charge of world championships) and USATF partnered on an initiative called Project USA. The goal is to get US audiences more invested in the sport. It is also helping underwrite a new documentary designed to raise the profile of USATF and its athletes. There are also plans to hold more meets and fan-friendly events. Watch this space for new developments.