Thursday, August 4, 2011

Lifeless Crowds

When's the A Final? It already happened????

All week I've been bringing you observations from the pool deck at US Senior Nationals out in Palo Alto. By the way I know that's not the official name but I don't want to type out the long drawn out name. Today I'm bringing a more downbeat one. As I probably mentioned, there are a ton of people at this meet. Upwards of 1800 swimmers. Throw in coaches, parents and other various spectators and you have enough people to create the atmosphere. Still, yesterday during the "A" final of the women's 200 free, one of my swimmers turned to me and said "when are they starting?". The swimmers were already a 50 into the race. That is both part of the problem and revealing.
I don't fault the meet announcer, Sam Kendricks, who does a good job trying to rile up the crowd during each and every race. I actually think the problem has far more to do with the content of the crowd. Think of the upwards of 3000 people I just told you were at the meet. Almost none of them are their because they just like watching a big swim meet. They're there because they swam, or know a person who is swimming. Could they get a little more excited? Of course, but USA Swimming makes very little effort to attract anyone to our premier competitions that is not somehow involved in them.

Even if they did- there would be room for precisely none of those people to attend the meet. I know what a difference such an atmosphere can make because I was in Omaha in 2008. The first men's final had Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte battling stroke for stroke for the world record. The crowd absolutely exploded. Here was a large group of people that were invested in results that had very little personal connection to them.

Of course, its hard to compare because the stakes aren't nearly as high out here in Palo Alto. But there are stakes here- and storylines that deserve to be followed. What if we actually tried to host nationals like it was a big time swim meet? Right now it feels like a lazy money grab for USA Swimming, wherein they attract as many people as possible to say they are at "Nationals", collect all the entry fee/time trial revenue, and then sit back and count the money. What if we invested in actually building excitement around our biggest national meet of the year, promoted it and held it in a venue where spectactors could come and watch?

If there is a consistent theme that cuts across swimmers, coaches and the bureaucrats it is a fear of change. We fear losing what we have so we don't take the risks to get a lot better. A year from now, post London, I think we'll have all the momentum we need again to build something in swimming. I fear we'll waste it again.


  1. Good comments ... please include specific suggestions on how you would "invest in actually building excitement around our biggest national meet of the year, promoted it and held it in a venue where spectactors could come and watch".

    It is actually a lot harder than you think ... when Michael Phelps isn't swimming or it's not an Olympic Trials there is not a lot to attract the non-swim fan.

  2. Agree with Gus ... if the swimmers themselves aren't excited about winning - Have you seen any post-race celebrations yet? -- why do you expect the fans to get excited?

  3. I dread to think what's going to happen when Phelps retires. ....

    I was at Nats last year and USA Swimming tried to make it "interactive" and exciting. There were countdown clocks, cheerleaders, people throwing tee shirts into the stands and at one point we were asked to sing karaoke-style to "Livin' on a Prayer." They tried.....I don't know if I would call it a huge success but they tried......

    I think the excitement needs to come from the sport itself/the athletes themselves. Unfortunately, the sport of swimming doesn't naturally lend itself to consistent balls-out thrills. Generally you have a laser-focused athlete with headphones on walk up to the block, give a conciliatory wave (sometimes) step on the block, race, get out and walk away. This sport has great personalities. If more people got to know other swimmers they'd be more invested. They need to learn who the rookies are and root for them as they come up the ranks. A lot of these people have interesting stories, most people don't know them. Marcus Titus has a great story.....people would root for him......

    I agree with Gus in that the answer isn't in the theatrics. It's in the sport itself and the athletes themselves.

  4. Missb said...
    I was also at Nationals last year. There were these cool banners hanging from light posts all over Irvine. I wanted one but I wasn’t tall enough it reach. So you knew something was going on there.. I don’t think the crowd was completely dead either.. I know I cheered, and jumped up and down when my favorite swimmers swam.. Even some of the signings were painful.. when someoen was late… Rickey Berens was trying to kill time waiting for Walters and they did a QA… there were a few questions and then it was silent. So I asked about Rome and the “bum” incident. I pretty much made a fool out of myself by telling him he had an A+ behind; but who cares, it was fun and everyone got a good laugh.. Gus even wrote about it! 

    I do agree that you need to get to know the other swimmers. Case in point.. Clark Burckle.... he hasn’t made an olympic team, or a world team. He was a strong NCAA athlete, with national promise. I met him briefly at the Charlotte Grand Prix in 09 and since then I’m a fan. I cheered very loud for him last year.. Fans need to follow the college teams; that helps: UT, USC, UF, CAL.. get to know them and you will find other swimmers to follow .. Make it intersting

    When Phelps or Lochte aren’t dueling I think it’s a let down for some. Not going to lie, I was very disappoint when I went to Mizzu this year and Ryan/Phelps or Grevers were not there. But there were other folks there; Thoman, Rogan, Berens, Soni, hardy, and Alexandrov. The Nadaores (sp) team from Florida were their fun to watch and listen too on the side of the pool. You have to make the best of it.

    I don’t understand how you can watch a final and not get excited and not cheer.. If I was there.. you’d hear me,

  5. After the show it's the afterparty and, after the party it's the hotel lobby. After the Belve than it's probly Cris, and after the original its probly this.