Coe: Adapt or die

LONDON, March 1 AFP - Athletics needs more meetings pitting the top names against each other on a regular basis or risk seeing the sport decline, says two-time Olympic gold medallist Sebastian Coe.

``No change is not an option,’’ Coe told Sunday’s The Observer.

Lord Coe, now chairman of the London Organising Committee for the 2012 Games, says there has to be a revamp of the competitive format to bolster sagging interest.

``If we don’t change we die,’’ said Coe, ahead of a meeting with fellow International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) vice-presidents in Monaco, where discussions are to be held on the proposed Diamond League, a global series of 12 meetings involving offering central contracts to top stars such as Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell.

If the project goes ahead it will constitute a major shake-up of international athletics with the proposed league constituting 12 meetings between May and September across three continents from next year.

The Monaco meeting is designed to work out issues such as sponsorship, prize money, appearances and broadcasting as it targets a shake up of the current Golden League format consisting of six European meetings where athletes sweeping all six can land a share of a million-dollar jackpot.

Eight of the proposed meetings would take place in Europe with the United States and Asia hosting another two each.

Coe insists athletics is strong but ``it faces challenges. There’s a degree of confusion among the public about how the season works and we have to change that.

``If tennis can have Federer and Nadal going up against each other several times a year, we need to have Usain Bolt running against Asafa Powell more than twice a year. We need a coherent narrative through the season.’’

Central contracts for world’s best athletes• Lord Coe backs biggest shake-up in athletics history
• Future to be decided in Monaco this week
Digg it Anna Kessel
The Observer, Sunday 1 March 2009
Article history

The new league system will see the likes of Usain Bolt competing in many more head-to-head events. Photograph: Dan Chung/Guardian

Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell and many more of the world’s top athletes will be offered central contracts to compete in a new world league of athletics that is set to be officially sanctioned by the sport’s governing body, the IAAF. Two meetings in Monaco, today and tomorrow, will determine the extent of the biggest shake-up in athletics history.

Sebastian Coe and his fellow vice-presidents of the IAAF will sit down with the body’s president, Lamine Diack, today to discuss plans for the proposed Diamond League, a global series of 12 meetings, running from May to September in three continents from next year. Diack is likely to be offered the chairmanship of the new league and is said to be accepting of the need for reform.

The idea came from a group of top athletics promoters headed by Patrick Magyar, director of the Weltklasse Zürich meeting and a sports marketing guru, who has led negotiations between the league promoters and the IAAF. Magyar declined to make an official comment on the negotiations, but confirmed that an announcement from the IAAF was expected this week. The promoters are willing to work with the ruling body and gain their sanction rather than go their own way by revamping the existing Golden League events in Europe. The promoters and the IAAF will meet tomorrow to thrash out details of structure, sponsorship, broadcasting, prize money, and athlete appearances.

Under the central contracts plan, up to 10 of the world’s biggest names of track and field will be asked to commit to appearing in at least six of the 12 events: eight in Europe, with two each in Asia and the United States. England is expected to host two of the meetings, one in London and the other in Birmingham, though the list of venues is on the agenda for tomorrow.

In addition to Bolt and Powell, athletes likely to be offered contracts include the female World Athlete of the Year 2008 and serial record breaker, Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, Cuba’s 110metre hurdles world record holder and Olympic champion, Dayron Robles and Ethiopian distance supremo Kenenisa Bekele.

Coe is fully supportive of the changes. “No change is not an option,” he told The Observer yesterday. "Athletics is a strong sport – it’s global, it’s men and women – but it’s not a game, one team against another, and it faces challenges. There’s a degree of confusion among the public about how the season works and we have to change that.

“The big attraction, and it was the real talking point last year, is head-to-head challenges. If tennis can have Federer and Nadal going up against each other several times a year, we need to have Usain Bolt running against Asafa Powell more than twice a year. We need a coherent narrative through the season.”

This “narrative” is one of three main objectives for the league: to make athletics more spectator-friendly, which in turn will also appeal to sponsors and broadcasters; to create a truly global sport, albeit with the bulk of its meets still taking place in Europe; and thirdly, to bring unity to the sport so administrators, promoters, athletes and sponsors are working together.

“We have to revisit the format, the way the sport is presented,” said Coe, “We can’t expect the public to sit there for hour after hour when there are only three or four events going on. We need some top choreographers involved to present a better spectacle. If we don’t change we die, that’s the reality of it.” When Coe was competing in the 1980s, athletics was a major draw, attracting huge TV audiences and holding its own against other sports such as football, cricket and tennis, which have since upped their game.

As Coe says, without change the prospects for athletics are dire: only 18 months ago the IAAF were told “your sport is dying” by a BBC executive during negotiations over rights. Also, there is a concern that athletics’ fanbase is ageing. The median age of an Olympics TV viewer in the US rose from 46 in 2004 to 48 in 2008. With athletics seen as the blue riband event of the Olympic Games, such a demographic is not good news for the sport.

A senior source in the broadcast industry said: “Clearly, international athletics has got to do something, because what they’re doing now is just not working. You have to applaud them for making these changes.”

One of the challenges will be convincing the elite athletes to sign central contracts. The IAAF are thought to have proposed the idea to a gathering of them and their agents at a meeting in California last November. It was met with some resistance, amid concerns that athletes would no longer be able to decide the structure of their seasons. But indications last night were that some of the athletes were mellowing. An adviser to one world record holder told The Observer that as long as a contract was for only six of the 12 races his client would be happy to sign it.

Coe is sympathetic to the athletes’ concerns, but insists that the demands are essential to the sport’s future. “I look at this through the prism of a former athlete and I know you can’t have 10,000metres runners turning out week after week. But Bolt against Powell really got people talking last year and that was an exciting period. We need more of that.”

British interests are represented at the negotiating table in Monaco by Ian Stewart, the meetings director for all televised athletics in this country, and an executive of UK Athletics. A key issue for Britain will be to avoid jeopardising current deals with the BBC and UK Athletics’ main sponsor, Aviva. The BBC has a long-term contract with the London grand prix meet at Crystal Palace, which is expected to become part of the Diamond League. Details of how that contract will be renegotiated into the new league are yet to be confirmed.

A BBC spokesman said: “The BBC has been a huge supporter of athletics and will follow with interest anything that is done to enhance the sport. We will be happy to enter into any discussions.”

The Diamond League is just one part of a strategy that could herald a new era in the structural organisation of athletics. All meetings – from grand prix to one-off events – could be brought under one organisational umbrella with the aim of creating a unified calendar for the sport.

An IAAF spokesman confirmed: “There are a number of exciting ideas that are being explored and we are looking at ways of making athletics more attractive, with a real global reach. But there are important details to iron out and it would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage.”

I agree that no change is not an option. Whether this is the answer I don’t know.

Last night at the Sydney Track classic in Sydney, we had olympic champions, the second fastest man in the world and a crowd over 7000. Across the road at the Olympic Stadium, over 25,000 for a trial game of rugby league. Leaves me confused.

haha, simple, in Australia at least, you need to make the sport more “meat head” likeable.
What happens when somebody scores a try in footy here? They go buzzerk
What happens when sombody wins a 100m race? They strut for like 10-20m and thats it.
So its not an oly games title you just won, but neither are the “trial games of footy” when somebody scores a try, yet they celebrate like it was an oly final.

Chess is a boring ass game to watch, so lets not have athletics become like chess. Celebrate the wins, no matter how small. If one only ever waits for a WR or Oly gold to celebrate - its gunna die

it depends on the situation and level, if someone wins and celebrates at a lower level people think what a wanker, who does he/ she think they are? lets face it there were people who thought Bolt was over the top at the Oly’s. :rolleyes:

is that due to nobody every celebrating wins? Bolts win was only over the top cause whats its being compared too.
As said in that article, average age of athletics fans is now 48. So there is bound to be a lot of even older than that folks enjoying the sport. Fist pumping, yelling and screaming etc in celebration is perhaps considered “beneath them”?

If one wants new spectators to the sport, one has to look not at the 25-45yr age group, you need to start younger than that, and keep them.

Im reading an interesting book, “Fantastic” The life of Arnold Schwarzenegger. In it, he talks about Joe Weider and his magazines and then how he learned to apply the Marketing principles he learned from Joe Weider into his Movie life, or well Life.
Instead of saying, Bench presses created my large pecs, they would say “Learn how Arnold created Slabs of Pec Meat”. Over the top headlines, that grab attention.
How to put it into practice,
i then said to my 8yr old son after reading this.

  • would you like to be fast? (he was bored just listening to this statement)
    then i said
  • Would you like to have legs as fast as a bullet? ( here he spikes up, and goes, NO, i want Legs as fast as a train)

Perhaps why Lightning Bolt is doing so well also?

What is Assafa Powell? He was just known as the fastest man alive, yet nobody i know in the gym even knows who he is…

Lets not only celebrate the winners, but lets go Over the Top in doing so.

There is a Gillet Razer add going for the last 1-2yrs, has Tiger Woods and a soccer dude and a tennis dude, going Over the top, Hitting an Old Razer out of the hands of a guy about to shave, then hitting a brand new Razer into the hands of this Said dude, For the closest shave he has ever had. Over the top, but its been on screen for yrs now.

Certainly here it is more due to Tall Poppy syndrome

Tall Poppy Syndrome (TPS) is a pejorative term used in Australia, Canada[citation needed], and New Zealand to describe what is seen as a leveling social attitude. Someone is said to be a target of tall poppy syndrome when his or her assumption of a higher economic, social, or political position is criticized as being presumptuous, attention seeking, or without merit. Alternatively, it is seen as a societal phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are criticized or resented because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers.

An example is a guy who is a tennis coach and drives a Porsche, in the US people would go wow he must be great, I should have a lesson with him here bloody show off he must be ripping people off :rolleyes:

Also using Rugby as an example Jeff Wilson despite being the best winger in the world at the time copped HEAPS of flack for celebrating when scoring a try rather than simply walking back to 1/2 way looking embarrassed.

First it was the Golden League, now it’s the Diamond League. What’s next in the pursuit of the “cure”?
Perhaps the Plutonium League, where the winner gets 1 kilo of plutonium to sell to the highest bidder? (that could create some real drama!)
Coe knows distance runners can’t be committed to this latest scheme but finds no problem locking Bolt and Powell into eternal combat. Coe has exceeded his level of competence here and no longer knows what he’s talking about.
First it will be 6 of 12 meets but, make no mistake, that’s just the beginning, and soon it will be 12 of 12 after the excluded meets and broadcasters scream loud enough.
“Unified Calender” means eliminating competition for athletic talent, lowering the athletes’ share of the fees.
What will happen to World Records when the competition schedules for those who could set them are regulated by Lamine Diack and not tailored by their coaches? What will happen to ratings when records vanish?

for an indication ask the PGA tour how their ratings were when Tiger was out of action …:frowning:

“I look at this through the prism of a former athlete and I know you can’t have 10,000metres runners turning out week after week”

Does he think that sprinters can deliver top performances week after week?

Apparently, Coe does.
As for what can be done. You need an effective press liaison to explain to the press, which covers many sports, exactly what they are seeing.
How could track allow the concept of Phelps being more of a story than Bolt to pass without a fight?
It would take careful explaining to the press for them to know the participation numbers, relative quality of records in the world’s most competitive events, distance covered per hundredth (the minimum margin necessary for a new record), sheer number of events (track doesn’t have sack races, backward races, or three legged races except at the Sunday school picnic level), etc.
There is absolutely no reason why the general press should know all this on their own and it is track’s job to point it out. This simply was not done satisfactorily. The only reference to any of this that I heard was from Michael Johnson on the BBC.
The NFL writes its own stories and hands them out at a free bar for the press, hoping that the press will get so drunk, they’ll hand in the NFL version verbatim.
One well known Toronto sports writer, picked to cover the Super Bowl in LA, went instead to Las Vegas and shacked up with a hooker for a week and submitted the NFL press copy that was faxed over to him daily. (I’m not making this up- he was caught after someone spotted him)

So how do you engage a larger audience, live or tv without diminishing the ability of athletes to perform? People outside T & F feel no connection to what these athletes do, whereas sports like tennis and golf are played in large numbers because they can play at a social level. No connection = no interest.

Events like Olympic and WC get a connection because of the top level performances. As mentioned here you can only have athletes perform at their top on a limited number of occasions in a season.

So how else? More nationality, regional or team based competition? Give people a reason to watch and cheer even when a WR is not on the cards. I see Ath Australia is trying this line with an Aust v Britain test. The state team comps have not had much public success here, but I think that is partially a lack of marketing.

Precisely my point on the last post. A press liason officer needs to write up the events to put them in context. The press itself can never do this alone. How fast is fast? How fast can the average person go? How far behind Bolt would they be in 100m? etc