How USATF Could Easily Increase Viewership For Its Events, Athletes And Championships

By Kyle Merber

February 21, 2024

On Friday night, the US Indoor Championships were not on NBC. They weren’t on Peacock. And buddy, if you think they were even on an NBC-owned network like Bravo, Telemundo, or USA, then I’ve got a bridge to sell ya.

No, despite this being a World Championship qualifier in the middle of a damn Olympic year, the meet was streamed on USATF.tv, behind a paywall. If Gabby Thomas and Trayvon Bromell can’t figure out where and how to watch this meet, then anyone who succeeded in watching the action on their laptop might as well be Neo from The Matrix, mainlining the internet via tube shunted into their noggin.

Gabby Thomas TweeyGabby Thomas Tweey

@itsgabbyt on X

There are enough barriers to entry to becoming a track fan as is. There are too many events, a million meets, a confusing ranking system, and a lack of establishment media coverage that all combine to make it really, really tough to follow. And unless you live in Eugene, there is rarely more than a single local professional meet in your area each year.

The way to grow the sport is to make it more accessible, which right now it is not.

We don’t know how many fans watched the meet live on Friday or Saturday night, but because that info hasn’t been published, let’s assume it was small.

I understand that RunnerSpace, as a business, provides a service, and charges $12.99 per month or $119.98 per year for access to streams for tons of meets that would not otherwise be viewable. I also know that when most partners work with RunnerSpace to stream an event, there is an option to remove the paywall by paying a premium upfront. Why is USATF not subsidizing track fandom? From USATF’s perspective – whose mission statement is quite literally about driving popular engagement in the sport – this is a huge missed opportunity. And it’s so short-sighted. If more people tuned in to watch these supposedly major events, then the potential sponsorship dollars would far outweigh any amount of revenue brought in from having a paywall.

A frequently tossed around idea that I really like is that access to USATF.tv should be included in USATF’s membership plan. Currently, an individual annual membership now costs $55 and includes a 10% discount on USATF.tv streaming.

I am not currently a USATF member because as someone who is no longer competing there is minimal benefit in me being one, and that’s a shame. While the sport continues to flourish with school-aged athletes, we struggle to maintain their interest beyond their days competing. Membership is a huge potential unlock and having access to emails and phone numbers of hundreds of thousands of potential fans would be infinitely valuable to anyone who has ever worked in basic CRM.

Here is the roadmap to use membership to increase viewership:

  • Require USATF membership to participate in USATF events. (We already do this!)
  • Include USATF.tv in every membership.
  • Ping members when MAJOR events are happening, encouraging them to tune in.
  • Sell-in even more valuable member-only deals available from major USATF sponsors. (The more people that sponsors can be in front of, the more valuable the package.)

Like a venture-backed tech company, sometimes you have to spend some money to acquire customers before they are eventually monetized. In the short term it might be more profitable to squeeze every bit of cash out of diehard fans and create animosity in the process, but the long-term benefit of having more people tune-in will pay for itself — via Saudi investment?!

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Kyle Merber

After hanging up his spikes – but never his running shoes – Kyle pivoted to the media side of things, where he shares his enthusiasm, insights, and experiences with subscribers of The Lap Count newsletter, as well as viewers of CITIUS MAG live shows.