At the end of last month, single-seat motor racing’s two biggest events both got bad reviews. The Monaco Grand Prix was labelled as boring, as it often is, and the Indianapolis 500 was accused of not being as exciting as usual. Well, Monaco was boring and, due to Indycar running a new car, the 500 wasn’t the 220mph slipstreamer that the sport has got used to, though Alexander Rossi served up a highlights package to satisfy any petrolhead.
In the following days the old guard leapt to Monaco’s defence. Who needs overtaking, they asked. The race was thrilling as Daniel Ricciardo led every lap despite a hobbled car. Well, it was tense, but not very exciting, certainly not in the way it needs to be. Punters decide what’s exciting these days, not journalists and experts. If it isn’t then people won’t watch and if no one watches then events – and sports – will die.
The people that will shape the future of sport over the next 50 years are still in full-time education, but they know what they want and will be serving it up to the rest of us once they take control. They want goals, the more the merrier. And they want tries, not penalties. Slam dunks are better than lay-ups, sixes instead of singles, touchdowns and home runs, not field goals and base hits. Racing must be wheel-to-wheel, lap after lap, nothing else is good enough.
This is the way it’s going now and things are about to accelerate. Adapt or die, that’s the message.
In the recent Test matches between England and Pakistan, the Sky commentators who went to the IPL recalled their experiences in India like teenagers talking about their first holiday without parents in tow. The crash-bling-wallop of the world’s most successful cricket league made its mark on all of them and the people that run the game appear to be doing little to alter course. We might love a Test match, but Twenty20 is the future.
Cricket is not alone. The future of sport is going to based around creating events that are more likely to be exciting in the 21st Century sense. Not everyone will get it right, but just about all will try, tinkering with formats and schedules that will create the perfect moment. They will be battling for advertising and sponsorship dollars, to engage the young, the Asian market, to conquer America. The dream is for every Sunday to be Super Sunday, every contest to be worthy of a label like “The Crunch” or “Armageddon 5”.
More and more sports will compete for a finite number of eyeballs, amounts of money and screen time. They will have to adapt to stay relevant and place themselves in markets where the people and the money are most likely to be attracted.
The one thing that sport can no longer afford to be is boring. You could get away with it every once in a while, not any more. Excitement must be guaranteed.