Why Bandwagon Swim Fans Matter During the Olympics

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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By Andy Ross, Swimming World College Intern

The Olympic year is quickly approaching and swimming fans around the world are getting excited. For swimmers, it is the pinnacle of their competitive careers. Some swimmers will call it quits after the Olympics. Some will stick around for one more year. But as far as a lot of the swimmers in the world are concerned, this meet ten months from now has been on their minds since the last Olympics ended.

For swim fans, it is an exciting time because they will be able to watch swimming live on television. We will not have to find an illegal 360p stream or have to wake up at 2 a.m. to watch prelims. Us fans have the ultimate package with the start of prelims and finals literally catered to our viewing pleasure. (This is a matter I could rant on for days but now is not the time for that.) But with the Olympics soon on the horizon, many swim fans will have mixed emotions because it is the year where the mass public audience will actually be paying attention to swimming.

This is a topic that has irked me the past few months. I hear swimmers all the time complain about how “nobody likes swimming until the Olympics.” That may be true, but is that a bad thing?

olympic-rings-2014

Photo Courtesy: Guy Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

After all, the Olympics is our pinnacle. It is our World Series, our Super Bowl, our Finals. As an avid sports fan, I only watch baseball during the playoffs and the same goes for hockey. I am sure I can speak for a lot of people when I say that too. Regular season sports are just not the same. It’s not as meaningful. So it is not necessarily a bad thing that people only watch swimming when it “really matters.”

But we need to do some reflecting ourselves. Raise your hand if you watched the World Championships when they were on TV this summer. Raise your hand if you watched the US Nationals when they were on TV this summer. If you didn’t tune into either of those this summer or if you simply did not want to watch swimming on TV then you should not be complaining that people only care about swimming during the Olympics. If there is no audience for swimming, then it won’t be on TV and the popularity will be minimal.

Michael Phelps dropping out of the World Championships and focusing on the US Nationals was the best non-basketball event to happen to San Antonio because Phelps attracted an audience. And therefore swimming felt like it was a big deal when he was on deck. The stands were packed, the deck was packed. That is something we want to see! Even if the majority left after Phelps swam, I’m sure there was at least one kid who watched the meet in the stands thought “wow, swimming is pretty cool! I want to watch it more often!” And voila! We have a new swim fan!

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Photo Courtesy: Sue Borst

So the point I am trying to get at is, embrace the bandwagon swim fans during the Olympics. Swimming has a small market and the more bandwagon fans we can get, the better. If one non-swim fan person can watch Olympic swimming and think, “Wow, swimming is actually really fun to watch! When is it going to be on again?” There is one more fan we can add to the small audience we have.

And the more people we can get on the bandwagon, the bigger the audience swimming will have. And the bigger audience swimming has, the more coverage it will get. And with added coverage and exposure, swimming will become more popular because it will be available to more people, and the circle will keep going.

I have noticed this in past Olympics’. After the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, my club swim team saw its numbers rise exponentially. When I was in fourth grade after the Athens Olympics, I remember specifically discussing Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte going 1-2 in the 200 IM the next day in music class. When I was in eighth grade after the Beijing Olympics, the talk of my lunch table was Phelps out-touching Milorad Cavic. After the London Olympics during my senior year, a huge amount of people came to our swim team callout.

Michael Phelps at 2008 Olympics

Photo Courtesy: Jerry Lai – USA Today Sports

The Olympics adds exposure to these sports that people don’t see all the time. After the Beijing Olympics, I wanted to try out for my middle school track team because of Usain Bolt. I didn’t end up trying out, but it exposed me to the fun of track and field. My friend wanted to try out for a local fencing team, and I didn’t even realize my hometown had a fencing club.

So next year when you’re watching swimming on TV, don’t get annoyed by your friend who constantly asks what IM stands for or when Michael Phelps will swim next. They are at least paying attention and wanting to get involved. If they’re asking questions, it means they want to know more.

And maybe, just maybe, they will want to watch swimming again in the future. And for the younger audiences, we can hope that more kids will want to be the next Katie Ledecky or Michael Phelps after watching them in Rio.

4 Comments

4 comments

  1. avatar
    Mark Schwartz

    I think part of the reason for this bandwagon is the poor job that the sport does in terms of marketing. I will give just one example. I can watch Christian Laettner’s unbelievable clutch shot from the 1992 NCAA Tournament to my heart’s content on my smart phone during my commute via YouTube. Ledecky’s 1500 record from the the 2014 Pan Pacs? Gone from the face of the earth but for a five minute clip in Japanese. The NWSL includes every game in it’s entirety as well as highlight reels on it’s You Tube channel. Want to see race videos from the European Swimming Championships or the Commonwealth Games? Forget it. You’d have a better chance of living to see world peace. Live broadcasts from Kazan or Brisbane are of no help to U.S. fans. Rights holders of swimming competitions are living in the 1970s when if you wanted to view something, you looked at the schedule, gathered around the T.V. and watched. People now expect on demand access.

    • avatar
      Andy Ross

      I agree with your comment. Although YouTube is a great tool for swimming videos, it is also impossible to find some races. It is very frustrating. NCAA Swimming is a prime example of this. It has terrible coverage for such a prestigious event.

    • avatar
      Goldbourne Mascal

      I saw both the morning and evening sessions of the athletics world championships in Beijing live on YouTube. I don’t know if that was a mistake or not but being in the Caribbean I was very thankful! Normally, a message that “this video cannot be displayed in your country” is displayed. The cable providers want to be paid for this free service! Disgusting!

  2. avatar
    Lu Johnson

    Nice article. I am ready for the Olympics!! Proud of you.

Author: Andy Ross

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Andy Ross is the new man on board at Swimming World. He is based out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida at the International Swimming Hall of Fame. He is a 2017 graduate of Southern Illinois University where he graduated cum laude.

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