Malcolm Gladwell was on Bill Simmons’ podcast Tuesday to speak about many things that are happening in the world of sports, and among them he gave some advice on how to make track and field more attractive and fan-friendly by making it a cooler spectator sport.
Simmons asked Gladwell about the Olympics and track and field and they discussed why it seems that swimming and gymnastics have garnered more public interest in recent years, to which Gladwell replied that, at least in the U.S., the sport is losing viewer’s interest because there’s no longer the sense that it’s dominated by Americans.
“It used to be routine that American athletes would win the 100, 200 and 400,” Gladwell said.
He continued by explaining that that’s not the case anymore, “so you have a real dilution in American hegemony of the sport.”
But he also points to the simple fact that “the sport does a terrible job of marketing itself.” The point he makes, which Simmons seconds, is that you have to be in the right seat to truly enjoy track and field. Gladwell’s fix? Let people sit in the infield.
“Simple fix…that they let the people into the infield … imagine if they put temporary stands … you can communicate the intimate power of the sport [by having people sit up close],” said Gladwell.
This is obviously a totally novel idea. No one’s ever even proposed this, given that other events are usually contested in the infield while runners run around the track, but it’s actually pretty interesting. It also doesn’t address the popularity of the sport on television. But Gladwell feels that it would give spectators a better appreciation of just how fast sprinters run, which in turn would help make the sport more interesting.