With a little help from its founder Paul Doyle, SPIKES gives you seven reasons why the launch of the American Track League – a brand new series of five competitions next May and June – is a great development for the sport of athletics.
1. The American Dream
The USA organises less than two per cent of the 100 or so global outdoor athletics events each year. This five-strong series of events (which could be expanded to seven or eight meets in 2014) offers a great opportunity to showcase the sport in the US.
“I find it absurd that often the top US athletes have to regularly go outside of the US to compete,” says ATL founder Paul Doyle. “I look at one of my athletes like Ty Akins, who is a very solid 13.25 high hurdler. This ranks him seventh or eighth in the US, which makes it hard for him to get competitive opportunities. Often he travels to competitions and only just manages to cover the cost of his two-way air ticket. Having meets closer to home will help the likes of Ty and other athletes.”
2. More athletes, more athletics
The ATL, in the spring and early summer, should also be a truly global opportunity for many of the Caribbean, African and Canadian athletes based in the US, as well as Europeans athletes.
“The timing is perfect for the European athletes to have competitive opportunities and the chance to earn money over the course of, say, seven weeks,” says Doyle.
3. Big names
The oxygen of any meet is the athletes themselves, and many of the athletes Doyle manages: hurdler Lolo Jones; multi-event stars Ashton Eaton and Trey Hardee; Olympic triple jump champion Christian Taylor and long jumper Janay DeLoach, are all supportive of the idea.
Outside of Paul Doyle Management: athletes like world sprint hurdles champion David Oliver and former world champions DeeDee Trotter, Bershawn Jackson and Brad Walker have also been massively enthusiastic.
Doyle believes one of athletics’ great weaknesses is that the presentation of the sport has hardly changed in the past 50 years: turning away potential fans and sponsors. The American Track League, however, presents a fresh opportunity to start again.
“We need to ask not why, but why not?” says Doyle. The whole meeting will be choreographed, have a troupe of dancers, and not last more than two-and-a-half hours.
Another innovation will see spectators pulled out of the crowd to hold starting blocks for the athletes.
“Years ago, a college room-mate came to visit me and I took him to a meet in East Tennessee,” says Doyle. “I was mainly coaching back then and the blocks kept slipping when one of my guys tried to start. I asked my friend, who had never been to a track meet before, to hold the blocks. My friend was so pumped up. He said, ‘I could feel the energy of the sprinters. I could see their muscles twitching. It was awesome’.”
“We’ll invite all the athletes to a 30-minute concert after the meeting, which allows them to mingle with the fans,” he says. “It puts a real exclamation mark on the meet.”
5. The Velveteen Playboys
Lounge rock band The Velveteen Playboys will provide live music at each of the meets, which went down a treat at the pilot event in Atlanta last year.
“One athlete who won a race said they’d always wanted to play drums and jumped on stage and played the drums with the band,” says Doyle. “It set the tone for the whole evening. They’ll play songs between events and during some distances races. It is a little bit different. Lots of meets play music at a meet but you’ll rarely see a live band playing.”
6. Field days
Doyle plans to put the field events on first at the meetings, and wants the fans to get closer to the action.
“During the long jump, I’d like the fans to be a metre off the runway either side, so the athletes can high-five the fans after they’ve jumped,” says Doyle.
“I would try to limit the participants to five or six athletes per event with four attempts to make it move as fast as possible.”
The track events would follow later, also in quick-fire fashion.
7. Track on TV
With lots of “promising leads” in terms of sponsors, and prize money “substantial enough” to make it worthwhile, the future of the American Track League looks exciting. But will it be shown on the telly?
“We have a couple of networks interested, but we haven’t committed yet,” says Doyle. “We are looking to see who will give us the most exposure, so we’ve been slow to commit. From the amount of interest we’ve already had, we’ll have it aired, for sure.”