Commentary by Nathan Jendrick
SEATTLE, Washington, October 12. PEOPLE on the business side of swimming–or people who just think about the business side of swimming–are always talking about doing “something” to move the sport forward.
We throw around ideas and opinions and often, we think we have something that will really get the job done. But–as often discussed on Off the Wall–it's a lack of resources that prevents said idea from coming to fruition. So while we are all working on getting rich so we can give back to our much beloved sport, we need to take advantage of resources we already have.
Following up on my colleague Jeff Comming's thoughts from yesterday, the World Cup series which again this year, as for several years now, is skipping North America. In order to move swimming forward, we need to take advantage of brands such as the World Cup and get a stop back in the United States every single year.
Now, granted, no one idea is suddenly going to push swimming to the heights of being on ESPN's Top 10 every night. But it's a piece to the larger puzzle. And as it stands, it's hard to fathom that the number one swimming country in the world isn't included in the “World Cup.” We need to get back to being involved in this known brand and leverage its competitiveness and familiarity.
On the latter, people may ask, “What's in a name?” To that I say, a lot. An NBC executive once told me, for example, that there was a lot of cringing going on when the name “Golden Goggles” was attached to our annual awards gala. I'm not saying that's why we aren't broadcast in primetime, though I imagine it probably doesn't help. But, as for this column's premise, we have something really good to work with in terms of a swim meet. Thanks to soccer and the FIFA World Cup, the name of the series is practically a household phrase. It sounds important, and prestige is a great way to pique the interest of the public at large: you know, the demographic we are trying to appeal to.
Here's an example: Mr. America. Everyone knows that title. Like Mr. Universe, it sounds like a pinnacle of achievement in the sport of bodybuilding. But, little do people in the general public realize, Mr. America is actually a title given out at a small local show in New York, and Mr. Universe isn't even a professional contest. But both get a few headlines around the country. Further, both of those sound far more marketable than Mr. Olympia, the sport's actual top honor, which is reported only in the local paper of the city where the contest takes place.
Similarly, promoting a World Cup series of meets offers significantly more upside due to recognition than random individual meets scheduled throughout the year. Yes, there are a lot of wonderful meets throughout the year that fields a large field of top athletes, but only those active in the sport know that. There's a reason papers used headlines such as “Phelps to Compete in Such-and-such-Town, USA” instead of “Phelps to Compete at [insert meet name here].” With promoting World Cup stops, fans and potential fans can expect a high level of quality competition under a familiar, trusted brand name.
Some would say we fill the lack of the World Cup issue with our Grand Prix series. But that's like comparing apples and oranges. The Grand Prix series is great but it's clearly targeted at American athletes or athletes who train in America. And that's a great fit and something we need. The World Cup is a separate entity and one we need to similarly take advantage of.
There has been an argument that given the World Cup's general base on the opposite side of the globe, the United States is just too far for athletes to travel. Except, it seems some forget, that some of our athletes are already following the World Cup as it stands now. Making a stop in the US just encourages elite-level athletes from other countries to make the same trip in the opposite direction, and encourage more American athletes to participate. And getting more athletes from the world's best swimming nation to compete in a swimming series seems to be a pretty logical idea.
With truly worldwide stops on the World Cup, we can also build up the points table that crowns an overall champion and, ultimately, it could play a larger role in a yearly award. The PGA has an overall standing, NASCAR too, even poker does it, by expanding to a truly global competitive series, we offer up the potential of a points table that is easy for the media to follow, keep track of, and report on.
It's a disservice to swim fans that a quality brand like the World Cup has been absent from America for several years now. I realize the difficulties that lie in hosting such an event, and I've been at previous World Cup stops in New York and seen the attendance. But with the right polish, the right push and the right athletes, the World Cup is a great start to showing sponsors the value in getting behind–and being seen–at swim meets. And when we get sponsors on board, the sport can continue an upward trajectory until we get to the point that maybe–one day–we'll hit that ESPN Top 10 on a frequent basis.