MLB SHOULD TAKE A CUE FROM “NITRO ATHLETICS”
Not unlike Major League Baseball, the sport of international track & field style events (collectively known as “Athletics”) has been struggling to attract younger fans and may be losing athletes to other sports.
The roots of traditional athletics can be found in antiquity and remain the nucleus of the Summer Olympics which are still popular to this day.
But, like baseball is a vintage sport that endures in popularity, there is concern amongst the IAAF (the international governing body for Athletics) that the attentions of the newer generations are being diverted to other attractions in this entertainment-driven world.
To help combat these issues, Sebastian Coe, IAAF President told the BBC earlier this month that the organization intends to be proactive. He said, “We need brave, bold ideas that engage fans in events”.
One such way is with the launch of a new innovative competition series in 2017 referred to as “Nitro Athletics”, which was developed by Athletics Australia.
Led by international nine-time Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt, Nitro Athletics will feature six teams of 24 athletes (12 women and 12 men) that will compete in events across 3 February nights in Melbourne, Australia.
The teams will include Australia, Bolt All-Stars, China, Japan, England and New Zealand and the meet will have “non-traditional” events such as middle-distance and hurdles relays, para sprints, and mixed long jump competitions.
Coe endorses the concept and thinks this may be the boost the sport needs. “We need innovation and more opportunities for our athletes to interact with fans and show their personalities – and Nitro Athletics is a great example of what can be done and what needs to be done to revolutionise how we present our sport and how our fans connect with the sport and the athletes.”
Further, Coe believes that “athletes and fans want more fun”. “Athletics is a global sport with a global following, but we need events that bring back the fun, the kids and the crowds. And we need to create events that deliver that and add a different dimension to the record-setting events like the World Championships.
This sentiment is reminiscent of Nationals superstar Bryce Harper’s multiple appeals to MLB to change the game through his campaign “Make Baseball Fun Again”.
Harper told ESPN the magazine in March 2016 that “baseball is tired… because you can’t express yourself” through personal flair and via the “Code” of “unwritten rules” on the field where players are required to respect their peers.
Essentially, he thinks individuality & emotion should have more of a presence in the old-school sport of baseball to attract younger audiences.
MLB Commissioner Bob Manfred is fully aware of this problem and is working to take action on the field including pace of play initiatives, expanding instant replay and pitch clocks, among others.
But, perhaps MLB should take it further and create a separate sporting event during the winter like “Nitro Athletics” on the world stage.
For example, baseball could present their best players in hitting & pitching competitions, plus have games with celebrities, and invite popular Asian leagues and their stars.
Beyond the World Baseball Classic which is another traditional style of tournament, a new MLB exhibition series like Nitro Athletics would be innovative and appeal to younger audiences.
Or, what about having the All Star Game move to the winter and be showcased internationally? Now that it doesn’t count anymore and simply a gathering of the sport’s most popular players, why not use the event to promote baseball globally?
I think it’s time MLB be more “brave and bold” similar to the IAAF. Like Coe said: “The only thing stopping us is our imagination and the courage to try something new.”
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