How Do You Save Track and Field?
On Track Nights: Festival Vibes in LA
How do you save track and field? It's a much-discussed topic among the sport’s diehards. On the message boards and on Twitter; at any bar in Eugene, Oregon, after a large track meet. Is gambling the answer? Beer gardens? Prize money? Whatever the suggestion, the implication is that there's something that will inspire the masses to come out and watch high-level track and field with the same fervour that people reserve for other, more boring sports. Like golf or, god forbid, pickleball.
Any suggestion that you've heard over the last (insert number of years you've been following the sport) was likely on display last night in Los Angeles at the first installment of On Track Nights at the Sound Running Track Fest. Free food trucks. A beer garden. Community races. Prize money. A mid-meet break for two musical acts. T-shirt cannons. Written out, it might sound like a lot of gimmicks. And sure, maybe the dude dressed as a flamingo blasting T-shirts into the crowd between races at Hilmer Lodge Stadium in Walnut, California, was a bit much.
“Put people in the stands with a beer in their hands to watch some world-class athletes on the track and maybe you can make one or two new fans.”
But in the years that I've been going to track meets – to meets big or small, good or bad – the one distinctive thing that was on display last night was the huge investment from a brand that seems to understand that there is an upside to this "niche" sport. Put people in the stands with a beer in their hands to watch some world-class athletes on the track and maybe you can make one or two new fans.
With Los Angeles being the first stop on the On Track Nights circuit, there are more chances to see the blueprint for this type of track meet replicated across time zones and continents; the series will land in London, Paris and Vienna over the next couple of months. If it's anything like what happened in LA last night, the sport could be in good hands.
If you missed the livestream, or weren't sitting in the stadium in person, here is the On Track Fest through the lens of our photographer Matt Parker.