As we get settled firmly into the twenty first century, technology has completely redefined how information and media content is distributed across the globe. Delivering, information via audio & visual media to the masses is both easy and instantaneous. And THAT is a good thing for track and field. As it is now possible to deliver track and field to the world with a few simple button clicks – once the proper infrastructure has been set up.
At a time when the sport could use a shot in the arm with respect to marketing, everything needed to do so is right at its fingertips. Websites for individual meets, websites for its stars, streaming video, all this and more is available to market the sport. The key will be how the sport utilizes and manages it. Because, like so much of track and field, everyone is on their own as to what and how they utilize the various tools at their disposal. Some do a good job, others not so good. And there are some facets that the sport is already losing control of – which is why it’s time for track and field to establish Technology Standards.
There are standards for how the sport expects it’s tracks to be constructed. Standards for the equipment that the athletes use to compete, and standard rules for competition. Similarly I think the sport should also develop a set of rules/standards to ensure that technology is utilized in a way that is going to produce favorable marketing for the sport – and that the sport itself is leading the way in developing track and field’s global image.
To that end the IAAF should establish global standards that should be followed throughout the various federations. The federations in turn (USATF for example) should ensure that these standards are utilized by athletes, clubs, meet promoters, agents and anyone else involved in promoting the various aspects of the sport.
What do I have in mind when I talk about Technology Standards? Well, for example:
Web Site Standards
Almost everyone involved in the sport has a web site. The most important of these, in my opinion, are those for our meets. Everything from relay competitions (Mt SAC, Penn) to domestic meets (Carson, Rieti, Ostrava) to National Championships, Diamond League competitions (Zurich, Oslo) and global Majors (Olympics, Worlds). A great web site can be the face of the event and present it to the world. Likewise a poorly set up web site can be difficult to navigate; slow to provide adequate information; and produce almost no information flow for the user. The same can be said for federation web sites where many are difficult to navigate and information is either non existent or hard to find.
The IAAF should put together a Technology Committee to develop standards for setting up web sites as well as a Technology Crew to provide technical assistance to help get proper sites established. Among the key elements should be historical and biographical information on key athletes. Historical information on major competitions and a results section for all meet sites that should produce instant and coherent results including photo finish photos.
Video Streaming Standards
Perhaps the most important aspect of modern technology and sport is the ability to video stream content around the globe. Now you can get your “product” in front of a market that includes everyone on every continent on earth within reach of a computer and the internet! The single greatest marketing opportunity ever available and its being utilized by most major sports – but is an opportunity that is currently being wasted by track and field.
Any elite level competition that provides televised coverage of any kind should also be streamed to the global track and field community (and by default anyone else that cares to tune in)! Television is what helped create the mass appeal of professional sports like the NFL, NBA and MLB, and it will be video streaming that will do the same for track and field. And just as television was “free” in its early stages, so should video streaming be free in the early stages of attempting to build up track and field’s audience.
Track and field can make its money off of television rights, secure a sponsor or sponsors to underwrite the streaming, and provide the streaming for free. In this manner track and field can control the quality and delivery of the product. Face it, if you’re ingenious enough you can watch most meets for free on the internet anyway (sorry Universal Sports). And to wage war against those providing “free” content (via “sharing” etc) only presents a negative aspect to the sport that is not needed. Look no further than NBC waging war against video streams of the Beijing Olympics – prohibiting streaming of events then not even providing a fraction of the missing content in return via television!
What the sport should do is control the streaming of meets to ensure quality of delivery as well as ensure that content isn’t being withheld. Streaming should become a part of television contracts, and advertising can be used with the online streams – as with “free” TV”. Because as the sport grows, streaming revenue will become a greater commodity – and the sport should be at the head of the line getting paid first.
Part of controlling the video streams is that it would also enable track and field to be in control of archiving the sport. When you take a look at You Tube and the track and field videos that are there, it’s nothing more than a means of archiving the sport. Archives that are obviously in demand! But archives that are often not of the best quality. I would think that the IAAF, USATF, other federations and many of the major meets would want to be in control of archiving their own content. Video streaming would create instant archival data, and the internet a method for sharing/distributing this content.
These are just some of the immediate things that come to mind. Obviously they need to be flushed out in greater detail. A Technology Committee could develop detailed standards which in turn could be used to develop “templates” for those within the sport to use to create web sites, results sites, video streaming and archives, etc. By the same token, there will be new aspects of the web and other developing media sources that the sport should be on top of and an ongoing technology committee would be able to address changes and new media sources on an regular basis to keep the sport current.
Currently the sport is not where it should be in utilizing twenty first century media to market itself. We need a Technology Plan that is designed to take full advantage of the resources that are at the sports disposal. It’s time that the sport become both cohesive and proactive in building and promoting itself.