How to Make the Diamond League Sparkle

As the first year of the Diamond League drew to a close last weekend, reviews and commentary are beginning to pop up online. The comments so far, however, have focused mostly on whether or not the series has been good for the athletes. I think that’s a fairly simple question to answer: it tends to be better for some of the minor events and worse for the top events. The shot putters I’ve talked to have loved the series. The event was rarely included in the Diamond League in the past decade, but this year they have been included in a high-profile meets getting the athletes both more exposure and more money. Other events have seen a decline in competitions and earnings. Because more events have been included, appearance fees have become rare in order to pay for the extra events (except for the select few Diamond League Ambassadors). A Twitter exchange between sprint star turned TV announcer Ato Boldon, high jumper Jamie Nieto, and sprint Lisa Barber concluded with Nieto saying “The Diamond League is making it real hard to make a living. Something has got to change.” The split program concept, where meets alternate hosting certain events, also means less meets for 100m runners and stars from events that used to be included in every meet. Sprinter Carmelita Jeter told Spikes Magazine that “This year I had about 40 to 50% less races, because of the split programme concept.” (By my count, she’s only done 13 meets outdoors this year versus 23 last year). This also hurts mid-level athletes, since some of the top athletes are now entering mid-level meets to fill the gaps in their schedule, which is leaving the mid-level athletes with fewer chances to compete.

The fans came out to watch the Diamond League, but was the new series a success? Photo by lejoe on Flickr.

So, to summarize, some athletes win and some lose. And that doesn’t even mention the hammer throw, which was excluded from the series all together. Of greater interest to me, however, is whether the Diamond League met its goal of expanding the brand of athletics. Meeting that goal will help the athletes, coaches, meet directors, and everyone involved in the sport.

Creating a brand is a big problem that all individual sports have faced over the last century. Team sports draw on the loyalty of a region in a way that local sports cannot. When the Mariner’s play 81 games a year in Seattle, they are bound to create a following that will be even stick with them through the retirement of Ken Griffey Jr. and horrible season’s like this year. Individual sports, on the other hand, compete across the globe and rarely are in a single city more than once. The key for them, then, is to create a brand for the sport that is bigger than each individual event. Motor racing, tennis, and golf are three sports that have done this well.  Formula 1 is a worldwide phenomena. Fans tune will tune in 19 Sundays this year to watch each event, no matter where it is, because the stars will be there and they will be fighting towards the championship. They are not tuning in because of the scenic landscape in Abu Dhabi or the great history of the Malaysian Grand Prix. They are tuning in because of the brand, not the events. Tennis and golf have the grand slam and majors, but their ATP and PGA brands are also successful. Again, the series is the star bringing people in to watch the brand, not the event.

Athletics has been less successful in creating a brand. While the New York, Boston, Chicago, Berlin, and London marathons are all great events, the creation of the World Marathon Majors has not been able to leverage that to create a bigger brand. The same goes with the Diamond League. Ask someone on the street in Zurich about the Weltklasse meet and they can tell you all about it. But chances are they have never heard of the Diamond League.

In my opinion, the Diamond League is definitely a step in the right direction. Compared with the Golden League, the Diamond League has multiple stops America and Asia. In addition, it includes more field events, which is definitely a plus for throwers. However, there is room to grow since the series definitely lacked a few things. Most notably, it lacked suspense. Most of the Diamond League champions were claimed before the final meetings, taking the additional excitement out of many races. Vice Chairman of the Diamond League and Zurich meet director Patrick Magyar has said the league will learn from this year and make some changes. After brainstorming at practice, I have come up with a few suggestions for them:

  1. Spice up the brand. The Diamond League has a terrible website and a dull logo. The Diamond League website is facing some of the same problems that the Diamond League is facing: it is basically just a collection of meet websites. Adding interactive features about athletes, improving the design, and making it easier to find information would be a great first step. In this regard, they could learn from the Pre Classic, which operates its own website with the help of Runnerspace. While they are at it, I like Gerd Kanter’s idea of having extra internet feeds to show the field event action.
  2. Add some consistency. The sports I mentioned above have been successful because each event is consistent. The Diamond League has tried to do this by contracting Ambassadors to appear at meetings throughout the circuit. However, this plan backfired since the Ambassador program has turned into the new Madden Curse: Yelena Isinbayeva temporarily retired before the season, Kenenisa Bekele and Sanya Richards Ross missed the entire season with injuries, Steven Hooker failed to win any event and no heighted at four of the meets, and both Asafa Powell and Usain Bolt ended their seasons early with injuries after facing each other at just one Diamond League meeting. This is not the Diamond League’s fault. But I think it is their fault to focus on individual stars rather than great competition and battles. You think about the last decade of tennis and it was the great Wimbledon finals between Federer and Nadal that stand out in my mind, not the record breaking years in which Federer annihilated everyone else. Unlike tennis, we don’t have to put up with boring years since there is always at least one event that brings drama and close competition among the best. The key is doing whatever it takes to get that competition in front of the fans. That didn’t always happen this year. The big Bolt vs. Gay vs. Powell battle never came through. The Gay vs. Dix 200m duel also fell through at the last minute as Dix withdrew due to “financial reasons.” Getting stars to face each other has been an issue in athletics, and we need to find a way to solve it. Gay is one athlete who is not affraid to fight and has shown that losing some races will not hurt your image. Hopefully the other athletes will follow his lead and the sponsors can put pressure on the athletes, since it will only help them gain more exposure.
  3. The winner of the Diamond League doesn't even get a real diamond, just a trophy shaped like one.

    Make it easy to watch. In addition to having a consistent slate of athletes, make the viewing experience consistent. Forumla 1 is always on Sunday. Monday Night Football is on Monday. When is the Diamond League? Who knows. Some weeks it is on Thursday, some weeks it is on Sunday. Some weeks it is televised, other weeks it on another channel or not on TV at all. Many people in Zurich actually missed out on watching the meet since it has historically been held on a Friday, until it was changed to Thursday this year. The Diamond League should always be on the same day of the week and they should attempt to nail down some television contracts so that viewers know where they can always turn to watch the event.

  4. Just for fun, add some diamonds. The Golden League’s name name sense since the winners took home some gold bars which were on display at every meet. That was cool. But I don’t actually know why it’s called the Diamond League. The winners get a diamond trophy (without any real diamonds) and a check for winning. Why not throw in some real diamonds to add to the allure? Cash is boring, even when it comes in the form of a novelty sized check.
  5. Finally, add some suspense. As I mentioned above, most of the diamond champions had been named before the final race was run. While it was fun to watch Zurich, it would have been more fun to know the winner of each race took home a huge bonus. The Diamond League should consider the idea of having a true final rather than the current system that only awards extra points in the final meetings. The early events could be used to accumulate points to qualify for the final meetings in Zurich and Brussels. Once there, everyone would enter with a clean slate and it would be winner take all. The only advantage the top point getters would have is that they earned more money along the way and would get a better lane assignment. Now that would be exciting. There might be some downfalls to this approach, for instance early qualifiers for the final might skip a few meets, but stars are already skipping many meets and this format could only improve attendance.

If I have time in the next few weeks, I will also provide a recap of the new IAAF Hammer Challenge’s first year and suggest some changes for that series as well.

11 replies
  1. Darrell Smith
    Darrell Smith says:

    Love this. I think you are skipping one part though, we need a marketing division to do all that you have laid out. The IAAF and subsequently track and field has to realize we are a professional sport, we still try to operate as an amateur entity, and fall back on the challenges as excuses. Your blog lays out some simple goals that would go far in raising the profile of the sport and bringing dollars in.

    Reply
  2. Dave Ratcliffe
    Dave Ratcliffe says:

    Some good ideas Martin, especially 2,3 and 5. If 5 was adopted the final meet would get everyone’s attention!

    Reply
  3. Mike Simms
    Mike Simms says:

    The Diamond League is extorting the athletes!!! 10k to win a race thats a complete slap in the face.Golden League was a better concept for the athletes in terms of earning potencial. 16k to win a golden league event was decent. A mid level athlete will not earn any money at the diamond league meets. To be honest only the embassadors are garanteed to make decent money, because they have diamond league contracts. Track and field is an amateur sport, the sport will only improve and draw interest when the athletes are getting paid big bucks.

    Reply
    • Martin
      Martin says:

      I agree, but you have to remember that many of these meets are run by non-profit enterprises or even subsidized by their national federations. While the money might not be much, it could be the case that there is little more to give the athletes now that so many events are included. 10k to win a race is actually more than some athletes earned at Golden League events last year in the non-premiere events.

      Reply
  4. Robert Willmott
    Robert Willmott says:

    How about a pay per view, pay per download of each event. Lets say you love the hammer throw. But instead of getting the best throws from first to third place, you get the entire event. Start to finish, for download. And like it is for the iTunes store, you pay for only what you want. Lets say a nominal fee, maybe $2.99. If you want the whole meet, depending on the size of the download, $15-20. Now, I know, as a coach and former athlete I would want the video of all the throwing events. My fellow coaches would want the events that they are specific to as well.

    Would something like this be to cost prohibitive?

    Reply
  5. Claude
    Claude says:

    The Diamond League failed miserably and here’s why: It rewarded the biggest names by giving them under-the-table deals which meant there was little money left over for the lesser athletes. It failed because it did not advocate head-to-head competition. It allowed, for example, the top sprinters to freelance by picking only those meets where they could also negotiate parellel deals to run. It failed because it was only a “half a track meet!” Each meeting only showcased select events. Finally, there were to few meets! The only thing as I can see the Diamond League accomplished is killing off the secondary meets which gave the athletes the opportunity to compete on a regular basis instead of having to wait “2 weeks” between events!! While not perfect, the Golden League was far more entertaining and competitive than the Diamond League. Finally, does one thin Usain Bolt’s handler are going to let him run in any meet where he doesnt get his “standard fee” (said to be over 250,000USD per meet)? His fee has the net impact of draining all monies available to lesser athletes who complete fields for events. The star system is failing the sport.

    Reply
  6. Ryan Fenton
    Ryan Fenton says:

    Great blog Martin, I really agree with #2 and #5. There is a problem in track and field in creating the brand for the sport. What is it, why would people think it was cool and want to keep coming back for more?? As for the DL Final, I think this is something that is needed. A culmination of the events in a true final that fans can understand and get excited for. I also think it should happen before the World Championships this next year. The World Champs are Aug 27-Sept 4th. If they continue the DL after the World Champs then it loses its luster because the World Champs is the biggest stage of the year. Crown the DL champs before the WC and let that be a way to lead fans into the WC and give athletes some momentum/notoriety with fans around the world as they go into Daegu. I think there is a huge disconnect if they extend if past the major championships (depending on the time of year, but next year the WC is late enough where it might be able to work). The website is also a pain and will usually freeze up or take forever to load.

    Reply
  7. Martin
    Martin says:

    @Robert Willmott – Great idea. I’d gladly pay extra to watch some of the throwing events. Because more events were included, several actually were finished before television coverage began this year. We expect a lot for free in the online age, but if they put together a good product, people will pay for it.

    @Claude – That’s right, there was little money left over for the lesser athlete. But, while the athletes and agents don’t want to hear it, do the lesser athletes really deserve much of a payout? If Jamie Nieto isn’t willing to come to a meet because they aren’t offering him enough, then at least one of the 50 other guys who have jumped 2.25m this year will gladly step in. And it doesn’t make a difference to the meet director. They need bodies. Other than the Usain Bolts out there, few athletes have household name recognition and the meet director is not going to overpay when he can get something for less that draws in just as many fans. They may have paid extra in the past, but now they can’t afford to and athlete’s are realizing what they are really worth. It stings, but it really didn’t hurt the meets much. The depth of the fields was actually great in the field events and, in fact, most other events. The problem was that some of the other stars were absent, but Gay Powell and Bolt were all centrally contracted and should have faced off.

    Reply
  8. Lonnie Naquin
    Lonnie Naquin says:

    I love all of the input and comments that I read. I agree with all opinions……..I would love to watch this Fridays meet @ Stockholm!!!!! (and I do not know how to get it or if I can get it). I would love to see all of the athletes participate @ every meet. The great athletes in football, soccer, basketball ,etc., have to perform every week or somebody will take their place………they better show up!!!!! Injuries are one thing and so is time!! I love to watch great athletes compete against each other. I don’t know, sometimes…. time is money. I love allllllll athletes that have a black heart!!!!! Been there done that all sports!!!!! Who has an answer???????

    Reply

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  1. […] the first year of the Diamond League I wrote some very simple suggestions to improve the league as a whole, such as a consistent day on the sports calendar or more head-to-head matchups. Track and Field […]

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