Fixing The Broken TrackTown Summer Series And Track Meets Everywhere
This was the second year of the TrackTown Summer Series which wrapped up in New York about ten days ago. When we first heard about a week-long, team-based series across three different cities, we were more than skeptical. It seemed like a gimmick and a half-baked attempt to generate some track and field interest. After watching the series, our views are largely unchanged.
While it was nice to see major media outlets like ESPN supporting the vision of TrackTown Summer Series, this series was clearly rushed into existence and has almost no tangible backing from casual track fans. Just look at the Twitter page for the TTSS championship team, the 'New York Empire'. They don't even have 200 followers and when you search their team name on Google, you actually get a result for the 'New York Empire' Ultimate Frisbee team (which has over 2,000 twitter followers)...pretty pathetic for track and field.
On top of that, none of the athletes at this series had any particular loyalty to their respective cities or to each other. Calling them "track teams" was a stretch. They were nothing more like a rag-tag group of athletes wearing the similarly colored singlets. Our first suggestion: end the team format and never look back. Track is an individual sport, don't try to make it something it isn't.
TrackTown does deserve some credit, however. Nobody else is signing up to gather sponsors or attempting to make track a professional sport, so we'll give them that much. But here at The Fast Track, we believe that there are better track meet formats out there. So we set out to find a format that could bring back significant excitement to the sport. Here is our favorite.
The Chase for the Cash
This is a system that relies on individual performances, one that doesn't create artificial team ties, and uses the IAAF performance points to align the wishes of fans with the incentives of athletes.
Imagine a system where the meet revenue from spectators is pooled together as a prize for competitors. Every fan that pays for meet entry, concessions, or merchandise would basically be giving a portion of their money to the meet prize pool. This prize pool would be awarded on a weighted scale similar to how PGA tournaments distribute winnings to golfers.
In golf, the winner of a PGA tournament receives 18% of the total prize pool. Second place receives 10.8%, third receives 6.8% and this goes on and on down to the 70th place golfer who receives 0.2% of the tournament prize pool. For golf, this system is intuitive because all players are playing the same game and only one gender is playing at a time. However, track has many different events and two genders competing at the same meet - it's not so easy to determine who the top performers are.
Our proposal is to combine golf's tiered prize pool system with the IAAF scoring tables to award athletes a portion of the meet's prize pool. This would put all athletes regardless of event or gender on an even playing field. The IAAF created a scoring table to more accurately compare performances across events and genders. The top performance (based on IAAF scoring tables) would earn more of the prize pool than the second best performance. The second best performance would earn more than the third best and so on. This would level the playing field among track athletes and allow for a golf-inspired payout structure. Track could also accommodate a 70-athlete payout system just like golf given the large number of athletes that are required for a full track meet.
Imagine what this would do to the motives of every athlete at the meet. When a runner falls off the pack of a 5000m race, they would be forced to push all the way to the finish instead of calling it a day with 3 laps to go. All of the sudden, athletes are competing not only against their direct competitors but also the athletes in other events throughout the meet. This system would incentivize all athletes to chase after performance records and to bring their best possible performance instead of settling for easy wins or sit-and-kick races.
This could also help level the prizes for athletes in less prominent events. Typically sprints and mid-distance events draw larger crowds than jumps and throws, but this system changes that as well. If the winner of the women's shot put throws a WR, they would almost certainly get the top performance of the meet and therefore the largest share of the meet's prize pool. How exciting would it be to have a thrower and a jumper take turns out-doing each other for a chance to win the largest share of the prize pool?
The 'Chase for the Cash' is a bold strategy, but it would help align the incentives of individual athletes and fans. Athletes want to earn prize money and fans want to watch all-out competitions, this solves both problems. Will this performance system alleviate all of track's viewership problems? Probably not, but we think it could be a great start.