Thoughts on a Beer Mile

In a Runner’s World blog written roughly a year ago, Nick Symmonds highlighted a list of goals he had for 2014. They’re as follows, in reverse order of importance to Nick:

AR 1000m Indoor           2:17.86     David Krummenacker     01/27/2002

AR 1000m Outdoor        2:13.9        Rick Wohlhuter               07/20/1974

WR 4x800m                   7:02.43      Kenya                              08/25/2006

AR  800m Indoor            1:45.00      Johnny Gray                   03/08/1992

WR Beer Mile                   5:04.9       Josh Harris (AUS)           04/27/2013

AR 800m Outdoor           1:42.60     Johnny Gray                    08/28/1985

Nick reasoned that because of the Youtube counts of two videos, one his 2012 Olympic Trials win, the other his AR in the beer mile, that the general public cares more about beer miles than they do track and field. Not to get too far into it, but the biggest fault in Nick’s logic is that the Trials were available on television and watched live by a much larger amount of viewers than the Youtube viewer count would have you believe. If we went by Youtube count for popularity, this highlight video of Super Bowl XLV and its less than 26,000 views would indicate by Nick’s logic that the general public cares more about the 2012 Olympic Trials Men’s 800m than they do a Super Bowl between the Packers and Steelers.

Regardless of math or numbers, what Nick argued was that in order to help grow the sport of track and field, events like the recent Flotrack Beer Mile World Championship need to happen. While there really is no question at all that track is struggling to gain popularity, are beer miles really the answer?

Last night, Flotrack hosted a meet in the middle of a Formula 1 speedway in Austin, Texas. They labeled the event a World Championship, yet it was run from the start with the professionalism of a beer league hockey game. The event received coverage from outlets such as The Atlantic, the New York Times, and USA Today, not to mention the massive amount of coverage done by Flotrack themselves. But for an event with such promise, it really fell flat.

Other sites can go into more detail as to the issues with the event from a logistics standpoint, and many have. But for a event that wasn’t even run on a track, how does the beer mile World Champs help the sport of track and field? The only recognizable name in the entire field to a casual viewer of sports was Nick Symmonds, who was nowhere near in contention. Why would the general public have an urge to watch a guy who got 7th run in a completely different event in a meet that won’t be happening for several months?

The sport of track and field wants to be considered amongst the top flight of sports in the United States, but events like the World Beer Mile Championships do nothing towards accomplishing the goal. The issue with track and field meet coverage was not addressed at all. The race was only viewable on a live stream accessed by signing up for a Flotrack account and featured numerous sound and production problems. The race didn’t feature James Nielsen, the world record holder in the event (although most of the Flotrack coverage before and after the event seemed to directly attack Nielsen). There was no reason for a casual fan to ever want to watch more track and field.

The only benefactor from last night’s event was Flotrack. They were able to sell ads, draw in more viewers to their site, and push their own likenesses. The Flotrack staff was more concerned last night with putting their own faces in front of the camera than covering the event. If Flotrack’s main concern was putting on a proper event, they would have secured the proper permits ahead of time. They would have made the event more about the competitors. They also would have put away the Chuck Norris cutout.

What Flotrack did last night was turn the sport into a joke. The Beer Mile World Championships had nothing to do with track and everything to do with Flotrack’s brand. Events like the Supermarket High Jump and Mall Pole Vault for Drake Relays are great for the sport because they take the sport and bring it to the crowds. They may take place in odd locations, but it’s about the sport.

Maybe that’s a lesson Flotrack could stand to learn. It’s not about them. While they may enjoy putting their faces in front of the camera, they’re not the reason we’re watching.  We’re watching because of the people on the track. The majority of viewers tuned in last night because of Nick Symmonds. Without him, that race would have fallen apart. But without Nick, maybe last night wouldn’t have been such a bad look for track and field.

If Nick wants to help the sport become more attractive for the general public, he should run track races, not help Flotrack run a 2 hour ad for their website.

While Flotrack may be a voice for the sport, they’re not the only voice. We don’t need to settle for their coverage. In a sport where every month seems to carry another doping scandal, maybe the sport needs more integrity. Maybe it’s less obscure meets. Maybe it’s less music videos. Maybe it’s more coverage of the athletes and telling their stories. But no matter what it may be, what it definitely isn’t is Flotrack and their Beer Mile.

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