I’ve always had a fascination with the amount of ‘action’ in a sporting event. It’s a curious phenomenon to me that American sports fans (albeit there’s a shift) can say that soccer is boring because there’s not enough going on, but their most popular sport is football – where, according to a 2013 study, a 3 hour, 12 minute game has approximately 11 minutes of action (and about 35 minutes of commercials). That comes out to about 5.7% action – from snap to tackle – in a 3 hour sitting.
So I wanted to see how the swimming World Championships stacked up in terms of the amount of excitement jammed into a period of time.
So I crunched the numbers, and an average finals session at the 2017 World Championships lasted about 6,292 seconds (or, about 1 hour and 44 minutes), and within that session there about 33 minutes worth of action. That comes out to about 23.54% of the finals time being live-action.
That’s a much better ratio than football. In fact, it’s about four-times better than football.
Can swim meets be boring? Yes. Can an individual swimming race be the most exciting play in sports, akin to a last-minute, go-ahead touchdown? Rowdy Gaines and Jason Lezak sure do seem to think so.
This is the problem that swimming needs to solve. There needs to be more fan interaction, more and better intra-race entertainment. There need to be fewer interviews with athletes saying that “this meet” wasn’t that important to them. The incentives need to be bigger – there needs to be more at stake. And, somebody somewhere needs to put the fans first, at least some of the time.
There is a growing chorus in swimming. It’s refrain is that “we want more fans in swimming, we need more paying customers at meets, pro swimmers need to make more money,” with a response of “but we need to make sure that the fans know that they’re always less important than the athletes and coaches.” It’s contradictory, and it’s the biggest economic challenge of our sport.
In the meantime, if you’re curious where the biggest bang-for-your-buck is, try day and day 8 – the last day has the most total racing time, and better yet: they’re all finals. Days 2 and 7 offer the lowest ratios – which is rather surprising, given that the women’s 800 free falls on day 7, and distance races typically improve the ratios. The relay at the end is slow to start – it comes on a 13-minute gap after the 800 ends, which is more than most of the gaps throughout the meet.
|SUMMARY||# races||Session Length (Seconds)||Seconds Spent Swimming||%Swimming Time|
Methodology notes: this is an inexact science, but is approximately correct. Time stamps on event pages, plus the length of the session-ending event, were used to approximate session length. Action time was determined using the last-place finisher in each race. There was a swim-off at the end of day 2 – that we ignored.