Despite success at the world championships, the track’s popularity has lagged in the United States


Behind sprint sweeps, game-changing throwing medals and the indomitable talent of hurdler Sydney McLaughlin, the United States spent 10 days starkly reminding them that they are still what court leader Sebastian Coe world leader in athletics, called the sport. ”

Yet for 10 days, as the world’s best battled it out to a few sold-out crowds while questions lingered over how much action was noticed outside the forest-green seats of Hayward Field, the first ever organized outdoor world championships in the United States offered a different reminder, and new concerns, that this country “isn’t making its mark” as a market for growing the sport’s popularity, Coe added.

To change that World Athleticsunder the tenure of Coe, and United States of Athletics are working on a joint plan with the goal of track and field being the fifth most popular sport in the United States by the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028. This would be a three point improvement from a 2019 study conducted by Nielsen. The USATF has announced that it will introduce a national circuit in five cities starting next year, with a stopover in Los Angeles.

The initiative even has an operational title: “Project USA”.

Eugene, Oregon, Coe said, is “absolutely an obsessive athletic community.”

But the United States as a whole?

A “tough nut to crack”, he said.

By awarding Eugene the 2014 World Junior Championships and Portland the 2016 World Indoor Championships, then making Eugene the host of those outdoor championships through a surprise no-bid process—a 2015 move by the predecessor de Coe, Lamine Diack, who has been heavily criticized and also under investigation by the United States Department of Justice and is believed to have been from the FBI – World Athletics have sent a clear signal that their path to relevance requires a stronger presence in the United States

The lure of the United States — its 50 million recreational runners, thousands of high school competitors, and sponsorship potential — would be reason enough. But it was especially important, said Coe, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist in the 1,500 meters, because athletics’ inaction to promote itself gave way to other sports.

“I’m probably not going to be Mr. Popular for saying that, but I don’t think in the last few years the sport has been commercialized as well as it could have been in the United States,” Coe said. “I think there was a complacency for many years that believed it was enough just to come back from an Olympics or a world championship at the top of the medal table. I think there is now a much greater recognition that this in itself is important, but it is not enough.

American runner Athing Mu celebrates after winning gold in the women’s 800 meters on Sunday.

(David J. Phillip/Associated Press)

No city is more closely associated with sports in the United States than Eugene. It was a logical entry point. It was also their only option, Coe said – even after World Athletics relaxed its bidding process to allow its board to proactively woo potential host cities.

“There weren’t a lot of options at the table,” Coe said. “There should have been and we should have engaged earlier.”

Athletes praised the passionate and knowledgeable local fans.

“I feel like it shows in the performance of the athletes, especially in the medal count of the American athletes,” said American sprinter Christian Coleman. “I don’t know when the next opportunity will come, but I would love to be able to have another major championship here on American soil. It’s pretty special.

Eugene’s choice came with risks, Coe acknowledged. Those who attended in person would likely already be track fans, not the type of casual spectators they hope to convert by 2028.
Residents here have described a sense of athletic fatigue after hosting so many high-profile meets this spring and summer, starting with the Pac-12 and Prefontaine Classic championships to the NCAA and US championships.

Hayward Field, with a $270 million rebuild funded primarily by Nike co-founder Phil Knight, is surprisingly lavish but smaller than venues that have hosted past championships in places such as London, Moscow, Beijing and Doha, Qatar.

During the first nine days, the average attendance of ticketed spectators was 14,540, according to the local organizing committee, with a peak of 21,065 spectators on the third day. The number does not take into account total attendance, which would include athletes or those with credentials. World Athletics officials, describing the “economic headwinds” facing customers, said attendance was one of several metrics it would later check, including consumption of media coverage, capacity of stadium and broadcast figures, to assess the success of the meeting.

Other sports officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly on the sensitive topic, expressed strong disappointment with the crowds in Eugene.

Track’s ambitions are based on penetrating a saturated sports market beyond those watching in a stadium. On television, NBC said its first three-day coverage reached 11.4 million viewers, more viewers than its shows of all previous World Championships had attracted, and opening weekend averaged 2.2 million viewers.

Those who watched saw Team USA deliver a resounding performance with a world championship record 33 medals overall. Their 13 gold medals were one of their record for a single championship, and the seven gold medals won by the American women equaled their championship record set in 2017. After three medals in the sprints at the Tokyo Olympics, the American men have won eight here, including sweeps in the 100 and 200 meters. These are also the first world championships where an American won a medal in the javelin throw and a gold medal in the shot put and the hammer throw.

Basically, the country’s youngest stars have won over enthusiastic audiences. McLaughlin, 22, was the author of the competition’s performance with her gold rush in 50.68 seconds in the 400 hurdles, the first woman to break the 51 seconds. And Athing Mu, 20, defended his Olympic 800m title with a world title on Sunday.

Devon Allen competes in a heat of 110 meter hurdles at the World Championships in Athletics in Eugene, Ore.

Devon Allen competes in a heat of 110 meter hurdles at the World Championships in Athletics in Eugene, Ore.

(Ashley Landis/Associated Press)

Viewers also saw American hurdler Devon Allen, a sentimental favorite given his fame in Oregon, disqualified ahead of the 110 hurdles final after leaving the starting blocks in 0.99 of a second – one thousandth of a second. second earlier than allowed by World Athletics rules. The moment drew fierce criticism on social media from fans asking why athletics would diminish its appeal by not allowing its best athletes to perform. Even Allen’s own competitors lobbied on his behalf.

A 2009 World Athletics study recommended that the threshold for false starts be lowered to less than 0.1 seconds. The organization’s competition committee has the authority to recommend such changes. Coe pushed back against a suggestion that 0.1 is an arbitrary standard, but said of the competition committee: “I think they will look into that.”

One hurdle for World Athletics that will persist long after it leaves the Willamette Valley is sharing its highlights, as it doesn’t own its TV content and is allowed to air three minutes of NBC coverage a day on social media, a said an official of the organization.

“It’s in the right direction,” said Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse, the former USC star who ran the first leg of the gold-medal-winning Canadian 4×100 relay team. “I know athletics is a European sport. When I go to Europe, man, the fans go crazy there but it’s tough here in the United States. You have to compete with basketball, baseball, football and everything.

“I think it’s going in the right direction, if they market it a little bit better, try to get it on some big networks like ESPN or Fox or one of them, then things can go in the right direction maybe -be.”

Coe said World Athletics is also in development to create a documentary series based on the Netflix series “Drive to Survive” which catapulted Formula 1 to popularity in the United States. format from 10 days. The first shortened format could be introduced in 2027, as the organization has already finalized contracts with Budapest, Hungary and Tokyo for 2023 and 2025.

The World Championships, in their current form, were first held in 1983. It took 39 years to reach the United States. Coe gave the impression that it won’t be that long before he returns.

“We want to be back here,” he said. “It will not be Eugene. I want to be back in Los Angeles or Miami or Chicago.

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