I decided to write this blog after seeing a tweet about the recent Nike Prefontaine Classic Diamond League meeting where someone stated how successful and great the meeting was...as unlike other meets, including those in the UK, there wasn't any music or a flame to be seen.
As I work on both meetings this got me thinking.
What makes a sporting spectacle a success?
Does it really just rely on the pure performance of the Athletes or does it in 2016 need some sparkle?
I sit and stand, literally, in a very unique position.
After a long career and having reached an Olympic podium and being on one side of the track, I now have the pleasure of working on a variety of sports in various roles on the other less physically tiring side. From being an infield host for UK and USA athletics events, a stadium and TV commentator in various sports and a TV and radio presenter. I have been doing a combination of all these roles, Athlete and broadcaster for over 30 years, therefore my insight is unique.
I have heard many things over the last few years as the entertainment element of Athletics has increased, including the consistent grumblings of a few who do not like the new innovations.
Too much music, too much fancy stuff like flames and smoke....”just let us watch the Athletics” is what some say.
Sport has to move on, Athletics has to battle the rise in popularity of others sports, who do fancy things. Giving the paying public more, hoping they keep their interest so they come back again, a full on sporting experience. This seems to be the theme.
What happens is one sport raises its game, others have to follow to keep up, sports battle for fans and the level of expectation of paying punters has risen.
Let's look at recent events.
The FA Cup final put on a pre show. Jazzed it up, bought in some dancing, a stage and a popular singer to belt out a tune.
But most TV shots showed fans with faces like, what the hell is this...
From my Twitter timeline and speaking to people who were there it was universally panned.
Just show the bloody football match was the general vibe.
Of course some would have enjoyed it and we all understand the demands of sponsors and air time, but it did seem like they were trying too hard and it was all a bit American. "It's not the flippin' Super Bowl" said some.
I feel now some sports try too hard and as a mother with two children I totally get the family entertainment angle, but some sports do drag the backside out of a sporting event.
When sports do drag it out then it has to be filled with stuff...keep people entertained, give them a little extra, there is nothing wrong with that, and in the right setting it is okay.... and the older generation, who are normally the ones that moan, as they harp back to days gone by, have to understand it isn't then it's now and the general public expect more.
I am proud to have been a part of the British Athletics presentation team for many years...from when we did nothing but say hello, set up a few field events and do interviews. To now requesting tweets for the big screen, encouraging fans selfies for the screen, flames, music...what many call building the experience.
I like what we do. Some things on the full running order of the meeting I would change, but people around the world follow us...because here it works.
But then, I am also proud to be part of the Nike Prefontaine Classic. This year was my 8th year.
My role there is different, I do things in Eugene that I don't do anywhere else.
I have two roles. I build, script and voice live preview VT's to inform the fans exactly what events and big names they will be seeing each Diamond League day.
It's 4 weeks in the making back in the UK battling the 8 hour time difference with my colleagues at USA T&F who do the logistics off my running order of each event, for the athletes I want, in the order I want. One 4 minute VT for Distance Night on the Friday and one 12 minute VT for the Saturday, both voiced live.
Once delivered and well received, the gun fires and we have non stop Athletics with just my interviews. This year just on the Saturday a VT was delivered, 16 athletes were interviewed and 18 events were staged. The only extra was an introduction of legends who were present.
Nothing else. No music, no flames, no smoke, simply Athletics and 3 voices. One infield, two commentators upstairs and the only extra sounds were that of the enthusiastic knowledgable crowd and the voices of the athletes I chat too.
It works, it works perfectly.
The crowd leave happy and thrilled with what they have seen.
But this isn't the norm for US sports where the general theme is razzmatazz.
Eugene is different. It is a crowd of 22,000 over a night and day of action that are steeped in history with Steve Prefontaine and the birth of Nike who seem to enjoy straight forward Track and Field.
Where as in other parts of the US there are smaller track and field meetings with a bit more of 'a show'.
Some of the innovations at the Portland World Indoors in March, up the road from Eugene, were well received by some, but left some baffled.
You have to know your audience. What would work and what wouldn't.
What works in one part of the world doesn't in another. Knowing the Pre Classic crowd well some of the British stuff would go down like a cup of sick. Not just with a few, but most!
I am confident I would hear from my infield position...
'What the heck is this?' 'Just show us the God damn Track and Field'. Which can be heard from a few in the UK too...but at Pre Classic it would be from a far bigger percentage of the crowd in my opinion.
Their meet is non stop and packed. A photographer this year complained to me about the packed nature of the field events and how it was impossible for him to get his pictures of all the athletes he wanted as he couldn't be everywhere.
The Saturday event from the first word spoken to the last was under 3 hours. 18 events including 4 field events later, it's done.
In my experience most Athletics fans just want the action and to hear from their favourite athletes, any insight they can get they enjoy. It brings the fans closer, they like it and I have genuinely never heard anyone say, you are talking to the Athletes too much.
Maybe changes will eventually be made at Prefontaine, but I hope they are smart ones.
Let's not forget what the athletes think.
The World Relays in the Bahamas is a big success with the fancy intro of athletes down a ramp and though a curtain with some smoke...in general Athletes enjoy it and it looks great. A top advert for the sport. In terms of one element, the music, for me it's like being a commentator and knowing when to speak and not...timing is everything and some love it, some don't....
Ask Renaud Lavillenie when he had the whole Arena to himself in Portland recently and asked for the music to be turned down, then asked the announcer to stop talking too...a time and a place for everything. He was attempting a new World record.
Which leads me to my conclusion.
Sport will always by driven by the standard of the performance.
Making the crowds experience of a live sporting event the best it can so they come back again...especially if it is their first experience, is important.
This can be a tough task if the demographic of your audience ranges dramatically from 10 year Johnny who you want to inspire and come back to 70 year Larry who thinks everything outside of one male commentator and the competition is unacceptable.
It's not easy but then on the other hand it isn't rocket science.
Know your audience and remember where you are in the world.
For those that don't like change, tough it is here. Embrace it and realise it's 2016 and just hope that when changes are made it is done the right way to enhance a sporting event.
Oh...and it is also good to remember that you can please some of the people some of the time...but not all of the people all of the time!