Future Focus: Growing The Sport
Posted: May 10 2015
Amidst the excitement of JO National Championships here in the United States, we thought we'd bring forth a topic that as a community we continue to battle with... how to grow the sport we all love. Are we dependent on the Federation of International Gymnastics (FIG) making much needed changes to elite gymnastics? Do we need to create a professional league here in the United States? Do we have to change the format of college gymnastics to make it easier to understand and accessible to bring back the crowds of spectators?
College coaches from across the nation are meeting this weekend in Daytona, FL. to discuss how to save and grow college gymnastics. It will be interesting to see what comes out of the discussion if anything, knowing there are some really great ideas, but ultimately coming to an agreement may be difficult. Recently this was highlighted when Illinois assistant coach Daniel Ribeiro published an interesting proposal to establish a bracket system similar to that of basketball to decide the national champions of gymnastics. The resulting conversation proved how varied the opinions are on the topic of how to increase the popularity of our sport. All that could successfully be concluded is that we all agree something needs to be done, the worrying part however is that we seem to be a long way off agreeing on what that something should be.
Beyond college gymnastics, having an outlet for gymnasts to continue the sport in the prime of their 20's is minimal, especially for those outside of the national team. A handful of countries have established professional leagues (Germany, France, Italy, and Japan in particular) which are often televised and allow gymnasts to get paid and importantly stay involved in the sport. Some efforts have been made in the US without success, back in 2013 for example with the founding of the National Gymnastics League, but failure for this project to grow and truly establish itself highlights what a massively uphill battle it is. Even Germany's Turnliga which has arguably the most established gymnastics league in the world is struggling with diminishing attendance and team's being cut.
There is much we can do domestically, from tweaking college gymnastics to establishing a professional league, but ultimately I feel it is the job of the FIG to establish a global path and strategy to grow the popularity of the sport for the years between the Olympic Games. Our sport is forever becoming harder and more dangerous, making elite gymnastics a more exclusive club, and yet the sport has dwindling opportunities to interest parents putting their child in the sport, and for young gymnasts to maintain an interest. The FIG needs to recognize their failures and make a larger effort to modernize the sport to better fit today's sports world. It is a crowded space and other sports are doing a better job organizing and managing their sport to remain relevant and grow. Television continues to play an important role in a sports popularity, so what can the FIG do to get our sport back on television and increase the popularity and relevance of our sport? Here are just a few simple ideas we have, we'd love to hear your thoughts so feel free to leave a comment below:
- Carefully study established and developing sports to see what we can adapt to gymnastics, sports such as golf, track & field, and tennis in particular have all successfully juggled the individual and team aspects of their sports and created professional leagues, tours, events, excitement, stars, and at the same time focused on global grassroots development.
- Turn the World Championships in to a league format with relegation and promotion and a "Premier League" of the top 12 teams that can be sold to television. Several sessions of qualifications in largely empty stadiums is an outdated format that no longer makes sense.
- Create an iconic "World Cup" trophy that the World Champions win (why we don't have one is actually mind boggling!).
- Name and market the four most successful Grand Prix events, mirrored on tennis' Grand Slam to sell to television - look at how many tune in to watch Wimbledon and the US Open every year for example, this allows stars to be born.
- Spend a portion of the Olympic Games money the FIG receives to supply developing federations with apparatus, assisting with international competition attendance costs, or paying for coaches salaries.
- Team Turn
First idea: Merchandising. There are no identifiable uniforms to buy or tshirts to wear to honor your favorite gymnast. No one walks around in a step in. I get that. But branding individuals on the elite teams of each country with their name on their uniform and a number. When Houstonians walk around with a 99 jersey, they know it’s JJ Watt’s jersey. Why not wear uniforms not only covered in national pride but sponsors brands as well. FIG needs to loosen standards to get caught up with other sports. As far as I’m concerned, the step in could look like a Nascar if it would bring more media and advertising.
Second Idea: Maybe integrate club and elite members to do integrated team competitions for promotionals. Teams comprised of all-ages to elite and go head to head in a team only event. Team Texas vs. Team California….
I’ll keep brainstroming.
I think if you want to grow the sport, you need to start at the bottom not the top. All your ideas appear to only be for top level gymnasts which is not going to work well if there aren’t enough gymnasts who can reach that level in the first place. To get the interest for those sorts of events, you’d need to get a lot more people involved in the sport at a grass roots level. At the moment those events are extremely unlikely to take off as there is no demand.
I can’t speak for the USA but here in Australia finding a club that will support higher level gymnastics is near impossible. Most clubs here only do Kindy Gym/recreational. Those few gyms that do competitive gymnastics are few and far between and usually top out at around Level 6 anyway.There is a continuous coaching shortage due to draconian requirements for mandatory ongoing coaching accreditation by GymAustralia that needs constant renewing at a cost of several hundred dollars.. The larger gyms and GymAustralia are managed by bureaucrats with little knowledge of the sport but a keen business drive hunting for profits. Recreational gymnastics is much easier to run than competitive and many parents are scared away from the cost of competitive gymnastics. The cost for gymnasts to go to Australia’s Nationals this year is about $2600. You could get a decent two week overseas holiday for that. Even if you are rich and want your child to do it, the high performance centre here in Sydney is not in the Olympic village where it used to be. A few years ago, it was moved 40km from the Sydney CBD into a area with the one of the lowest socio demographics in the country where parents are the least likely to be able to afford to pay for 30 hours a week training and those that can afford it are least likely to want/be able to travel to.