Short Events vs. Sparse Seasons

Often, the leaders of Elite Track and Field (and other sports) stress the need to shorten event times to create greater interest in the sport. The long death of the sport of baseball, we are told continually, is due to its slow pace and long game times, which make it irrelevant to many younger viewers. [Actually, the reports of baseball’s demise are premature, as the sport’s revenues still grow annually (   link    )!]. More worldly figures point to the success of the Indian Premier League (IPL: a short-format cricket league) as a prima facie argument for the need to “speed everything up”.

A lot of this misses the real point. There is a fundamental difference between a short, one-off event, and a long or full schedule of short events. Maybe baseball would grow even more than it does if it were to speed up its game. That is one hypothesis that might get tested some day. But, pretty obviously, a baseball season that has only one (short) game per year, or only ten, would not be worth as much as it is now. It is quite reasonable to ask if 162 games per season are too many. But, is inarguable that there is great value in a long season, in which paying customers can find many opportunities to partake of a professional product, as their schedule allows. Regarding cricket, many observers have argued that the faster pace and shorter duration of IPL are critical to its success. Direct comparisons between team sports (cricket) and individual spots (such as ET&F) are fraught with danger. But, the marginal value of a shorter, single event is reasonable to consider.  Just like baseball, however, there is danger in missing the fact that the round-robin portion of IPL is a orgy of activity: 98 individual matches occurring over only 6 weeks. Short, yes, but many in number. It is a mistake to ignore the value of volume in all of this.

ET&F has its own questionable logic. Regardless of whether (IAAF) Diamond League (DL)  fans prefer short-format meets, it is a fact that they will only get to see one per year in their specific locale. More successful implementations of short-event sports have an important, repetitive attribute that DL does not. On the flip-side, the most successful events in ET&F are the large (“major”) meets, such as the IAAF World Championships, and the athletics portion of the Olympic Games. These meetings typically hold 12-16 sessions during their extent. While organizers of the recent London 2017 Championships saw value in limiting session lengths, those considering the future of the sport should not miss the fact that there were 14 sessions, over 10 days.  In a thought experiment, it is hard to separate the factors (e.g., session length vs. session numbers) in any practical way. Perhaps there is an optimum number of days and sessions. Nevertheless, it is obvious that a theoretical London 2017, with a single 3 hour session, would not have been the success that the actual event was. Its effective “season” (14 sessions in 10 days) was important to its perception as being a big event.  This is not much different than baseball or cricket (or numerous other sports).

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