Every Olympic year USA Swimming sees an Olympic “bump” of participation. It’s hard not to get inspired watching the crew of American stars. But the Olympics is a short-term phenomenon so that’s why programs such as SwimToday exist to drive interest every day, every year. But it won’t be easy the next decade.
I am reminded of the famous quote from football coach Lou Holtz, when asked about a tough loss.
“I slept like a baby,” Holtz said. “I woke up every two hours and cried.
Below are several trends that should have our attention as a sport.
- Sports: There is an overall decrease in youth sports participation and increase in non-traditional eSports or video gaming. Colleges are creating scholarships and arenas are being filled with this new blend of competition and entertainment. If we don’t look at that as a competitor to youth sports participation, we have our head in the sand.
- Cord Cutting: Cord cutting is a term that describes people who are forgoing traditional cable and wired services in favor of mobile only. Mobile is becoming the “first screen” and sports properties must adapt. This isn’t scary as much as exciting and we have to be ready with content and technical infrastructure. Just follow the @NBCOlympics twitter feed for even a few minutes and you will see how much they are driving more digital tune-in.
- Post “Golden Era”: In a recent Fox Business article I referred to the existing group of National Team athletes as the “Golden Era” of marketable swimmers. Whether in the immediate or not-too-distant future we are looking at a sport without Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Natalie Coughlin, Matt Grevers, Tyler Clary and more for the first time in decades. It’s similar to what the NBA went through with the retirement of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. Our focus will be on introducing and raising the profile of the next generation of stars in the sport.
- Fragmented Sponsorship World: There are more competitors for dollars than ever in the sports sponsorship world. Swimming’s major events (ex. Phillips 66 National Championships, AT&T Winter National Championships, Arena Pro Swim Series, Speedo Junior Nationals) all have existing title sponsors, so I often fret over “what’s next” for growth. The early answer is digital content and expanding our content creation beyond “who touched the wall first” content. We have to promote the National Teamers and the sport in general through profiles, lifestyle features and more beyond splits and times.
- Youth Sports Arms Race: Major professional sports such as MLB, NFL, and the NHL are pumping in millions of dollars annually to support and grow grassroots participation. Those are tough dollars to compete with, so we have to be more resourceful and compete to attract new families to the sport and keep the ones we have. I wrote about a great development in an earlier blog about how major media properties are getting involved in youth sports, so this is an even more critical partnership for us moving forward.
Use the #SwimTrends hashtag and be a Swim Trend Spotter yourself and let me know what you think is important for this column and social media.
Matt Farrell is the Chief Marketing Officer of USA Swimming. Follow and share your #SwimTrends using the hashtag or tagging @MattFarrell_ on Twitter.