Monday, November 23, 2009
Will the Diamond League Improve the Sport ?
For twelve years The Golden League was the premier competition series in the sport. Run exclusively in Europe during the heart of the "Circuit", the six/seven meet series allowed a select group of athletes the opportunity to win all, or a share of a $1 million jackpot. Select meaning that only a handful of events qualified for jackpot competition each season.
After a dozen years, the Golden League is getting an upgrade to the fourteen meet "Diamond League" consisting not only of meets in Europe but adding competitions in Asia, the Middle East and the United States:
Doha (QAT) - 5/14
Shanghai (CHN) - 5/23
Oslo (NOR) - 6/4
Rome (ITA) - 6/10
New York (USA) - 6/19
Eugene (USA) - 7/3
Lausanne (SWI) - 7/8
Gateshead (GBR) - 7/11
Paris (FRA) - 7/16
Monaco (MON) - 7/22
Stockholm (SWE) - 8/6
London (GBR) - 8/13
Zurich (SWI) - 8/19
Brussels (BEL) - 8/27
Along with the additional competitions, however, comes a big change in how the money will be distributed. Instead of a single jackpot to be shared based on going undefeated in a handful of select events, the Diamond League will have a much larger ($6.6 million) total payout to the athletes with points being accumulated in thirty two events instead of a select few.
In the past, the format of the Golden League was really geared to a handful of athletes. With the idea of being undefeated central to the Golden League, once the first meet in the series was completed only those that won their events were still in contention for the jackpot. That meant that everyone else had little reason to compete - financially. The result was that the very elite (already with hefty contracts in tow) found it easy to only run selectively in Golden League meets. So while the Golden League meets became some of the best single day meets on the planet, they didn't do a very good job of bringing the best of the best together.
If this weekend's inaugural activities and announcements for the Diamond League are any indication, the best of the best seem to be much more attracted to the new format! At Sunday's launch in Monaco, we were presented with the athlete ambassadors of the Diamond League in the form of stars Yelena Isinbayeva, Kenenisa Bekele, Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay, Sanya Richards, Asafa Powell, Andreas Thorkildsen, Blanka Vlasic, and Steven Hooker - all of whom were also announced as contracted participants for 2010.
The idea of "contracting" with athletes is already reaping rewards, as via contracts with Bolt, Gay, and Powell, the Diamond League has guaranteed itself that at least one of the three fastest men in history will be competing in each of the fourteen meets. But not just in solo competitions, as it was announced that several meets will have at least two of the sprinters going head to head with Bolt and Gay going head to head at least THREE times during the summer! That's incredible given that they've competed against each other a total of two times in the past two seasons.
If the Diamond League can get several other events at this level - with the top two, three, or four individuals on stage together in several of these meets - then that alone will make the "upgrade" a huge success. Because this is what the sport needs desperately - get as many of its stars on stage as possible. This is the direction in which the sport needs to be headed -star studded fields, not races down the boulevard.
It also won't hurt that two of these meets will be based in the US - giving the American public a chance to see the world's best compete here at home. We've needed this type of exposure here at home for some time as to this point we've had nothing bringing a large number of "foreign" athletes to our shores outside of the Olympic Games every twenty or so years. So having Diamond League competitions every year should be a tremendous boost to marketing the sport here in the US.
So for me, the Diamond League is already doing its job - bringing the best together and bringing them to the US. Both of these things should help the league improve the sport. I'm looking forward to seeing the announced fields overall as the meets take shape. I'll also be looking forward to seeing what type of television contracts are negotiated. Especially here in the US. Exposure being critical to the expansion of this sport. But if the Diamond League does nothing but bring the best of the best together and give us a plethora of high level match ups, it will be a tremendous improvement over its predecessor.