Stempak: Swimming needs improvements for spectators
R.J. Stempak | Tuesday, September 13, 2016
With the NBA offseason in full swing, I could not possibly pull off another interesting column about the NBA. Or could I? The answer is no, no I could not. So in lieu of another thoughtful analysis of the greatest sport and greatest league in the world, I will confront an issue that bothered me throughout my high school athletic career.
That issue is this: Swimming is terribly boring as a spectator sport. I ran track my freshman year, then swam for three years after that, so I think I have a decent amount of close-up experience with the issue.
So firstly, I had to figure out what exactly the issues are with this sport. The number one problem for me was the standard meet format. Spending a full day inside a humid and uncomfortable natatorium to watch a single heat that lasts no more than a few minutes sounds like something that the devil would set up in hell as a spectator sport. Simply put, it is unbearable.
Secondly, swimmers are so hard to recognize in the pool. The best method of standing out at a meet nowadays is having your name printed in small letters below your team name and logo on your swim cap. Good luck seeing me from the stands, mom!
However, I believe it is more prudent to attempt to fix the structural issues of the sport before the aesthetics, so let us start there. The only real world example I can draw from is the American Track League. Track and field, also a meet-format sport, has run into issues attracting spectators outside of the Olympics. So the solution it came up with was to make the track meet a sort of half-meet, half-party environment. They have music playing throughout the meet, which is something I can translate to swimming. My favorite change is that track has ditched the stands during certain events such as the 100m dash and let fans line up right next to the lanes to experience the speed of the sprinters up close.
So for swimming, the first thing I’m going to do is split the meet in half, putting the boring events in a secondary pool while keeping the exciting events front and center. That means any race over 200 meters is pushed aside to the side pool where parents of distance swimmers can “enjoy” watching their children torture themselves by swimming excruciating distances at top speed. Have fun, side pool. To make the side pool more interesting, I will throw all of the diving events over there too. And to save time, the diving and distance swimming will compete simultaneously, yet hopefully separately.
Now back to the real attraction — the main pool. The sprinters, the celebrities of the swimming world (except for my favorite swimmer of all-time and role model, Katie Ledecky), get the spotlight, literally. There will be a lighting system similar to the one the Los Angeles Lakers employ where the fans are dimmed and the pool illuminated. Poolside seats are to be added, known as the splash zone, where affluent fanatics can experience what it feels like to be splashed with water by the premier athletes in the sport.
Lastly, gone are the days of boring lanes and boring swimmers. Each swimmer is given command of his lane through the instillation of 3-D projection systems found in todays NBA arenas. The projectors can customize each swimmers’ lane with color and projection of a logo or some sort of animation.
The swimmers themselves need to stand out as well. For this solution I am going to have to bring full body suits back, not in the bland all-black design of before, but with some NASCAR flair. Each swimmer will be covered in their advertisers’ colors and logos, because who wouldn’t want to root for the M&M’s swimmer every race?
Unfortunately for swimming, I can only do so much for one of the oldest and most noble of athletic competitions. It just is not spectator friendly. Any more tinkering with the format and I would be hurting the competition and putting the swimmers’ lives at risk, or in some cases, the lives of the sharks that may or may not have been part of my next innovation.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.