Excellent BBC coverage of yesterday’s Great Edinburgh Cross Country featuring repeat wins by Americans Garrett Heath in the 4km and Chris Derrick in the 8km, along with American men’s 8km, women’s 6km, and two junior races in the team-scored competition. And thanks to USATF.TV for streaming the coverage to U.S. fans over the internet.
But as my long-time friend and cameraman Dale Wong said in December as we prepared to webcast the Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Oregon, “we are losing our minor sports due to the internet.”
Losing fans by having coverage? Sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? But Dale, who has been shooting races since the mid-1980s went on to clarify his position.
“It is broadcast TV viewership that fuels the next generation of fans and participants. Station surfers will run across an event and say, ‘I gotta try that.’ What internet coverage does is maintain what you already have, but it doesn’t attract any new viewers.”
Besides NXN, Dale still shoots the New York City Marathon and Ironman Triathlon in Kona, Hawaii. He and I have been friends since the days of Running & Racing, the Salmini Films produced series that ran 26 weeks a year on ESPN beginning in the mid-1980s. We also traveled the world together for ESPN’s Road Race of the Month, which aired from 1989 to 1998.
“Those shows promoted the sport to a wide-spread audience,” said Dale. “Today, there is nothing on broadcast or sport cable to get that guy who’s never seen a race on TV before, and now might want to see another.“
That isn’t to say internet coverage isn’t important and necessary. Flotrack and RunnerSpace do yeoman service for the sport. And the NYRR has promoted its top events quite well with its own in-house internet programming. But without a wider distribution channel, the sport will slowly continue to see an erosion in whatever base set of fans it now has as fewer and fewer new eyeballs run across performances like we saw yesterday in Edinburgh.