SSPC: Can the ISL be Profitable?

In the SwimSwam Podcast dive deeper into the sport you love with insider conversations about swimming. Hosted by Coleman Hodges and Gold Medal Mel Stewart, SwimSwam welcomes both the biggest names in swimming that you already know, and rising stars that you need to get to know, as we break down the past, present, and future of aquatic sports.

We sat down with Torrey Hart, former SwimSwam writer and now full-time sports journalist at Front Office Sports. Torrey wrote a massive piece breaking down the business side of ISL at the conclusion of Season 2, and if you haven’t read it yet, DO SO NOW! Then we can really have a conversation.

We break down how the ISL ran things in their first 2 seasons, including their inability to pay all of their debts right away. We talk through both sides of the coin as well as moving forward, what the league can do to turn a profit and really start to turn swimming into a legitimate professional sport. Because let’s be honest: as swim fans, that’s all we really want.

Music: Otis McDonald
www.otismacmusic.com

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Opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the interviewed guests do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the hosts, SwimSwam Partners, LLC and/or SwimSwam advertising partners.

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Realist
9 months ago

No

Olympian
Reply to  Realist
9 months ago

It could… But it feels like there’s still a longer way to make swimming popular enough for the broad public

Swammerstein
Reply to  Olympian
9 months ago

Yeah people would have to magically care about and understand swimming aside from Michael Phelps

Reply to  Swammerstein
9 months ago

I think ISL can be, re: total digital reach. Over 2019, reach was 40 million and change. It’s larger this years. Once you’re nearly 100 million reach, you have a business. True, it’ll take time, 2-3 more years, but you can reach break-even. HOWEVER, if the gamification (gambling) of swim is a part of the biz model, then you’re in the black and profitable in 12-18 min.

Swim fan 44
9 months ago

Yes

Finance guy
Reply to  Swim fan 44
9 months ago

Not at all, it’s swimming. XFL failed twice now and football is infinitely times more popular. The AAF also failed.

PVSFree
Reply to  Finance guy
9 months ago

Both those leagues had existing competition though. It’s EXTREMELY hard to produce a better product than the NFL when all the elite talent is there. The ISL has all the elite swim talent, the challenge for them is reaching new potential fans. I wholeheartedly agree with Mel’s comment above saying that adding a gambling aspect could do wonders.

swimfan_00
9 months ago

ISL really needs strong marketing and sponsors otherwise, it will fail. This season was amazing to watch on tv , the content is great, that’s the big point.

Last edited 9 months ago by swimfan_00
PsychoDad
9 months ago

Not in the way it is currently designed. To attract audience, the following must be changed:

  1. Organize teams by country and call them USA, UK, Germany, Australia, etc. Each team could have, for example, up to 5 swimmer from another country. The way it is designed now, swimmers come and go and change teams. People like to “belong” and cheer for their “own” team. Make it more difficult to switch teams once you commit.
  2. Get rid of short course – only long course. People do not “understand” short course times and records.
  3. Find legitimate sponsors (swimming and corporate), not some Russian oligarchs.
  4. Pay swimmers more (if you can do 1, 2, and 3)
swimgeek
Reply to  PsychoDad
9 months ago

SC is more spectator friendly and we also get to see far more records.

Reply to  swimgeek
9 months ago

1 – I actually like the pro teams (their BRANDS) made up of talent from allover the world (and when they start a DRAFT, which “I think” they will–that’ll bring excitement and buy-in from fans)
2 – scm is way more exciting (and I actually like that it’s different from the Olympic distance)
3 – sponsors will came when “total digital reach” is sold, and their digital reach is solid (re: the swimmers participating love this and leverage nonstop while competing)
4 – I’m all for paying swimmers more? I think that’s covered, and it’ll evolve as the league does.

Aussieone
Reply to  PsychoDad
9 months ago

Most countries of the swimming world understand short course times and records.

SwimCoach
Reply to  Aussieone
9 months ago

I think he’s an American (I’m an American and many here don’t understand SCM. We’re constantly switching between SCM/SCY/LCM it’s nuts)

Reply to  SwimCoach
9 months ago

I have always hated yards. I wish all US meets were SCM and LCM, re: we could then have WRs at NCAAs and world rankings for all age groups.

Michael Schwartz
Reply to  Gold Medal Mel Stewart
9 months ago

Yeah, but you already have the vast majority of pools established in the country as 25 yards in length so kindof hard to make that switch at this point.

Blackflag82
Reply to  Michael Schwartz
9 months ago

Yes most pools are 25 yards, but there was a time when a ton of available pools were 20 yards (enough so that records were kept for 20 yard pools at a variety of levels). We didn’t stick with that model then, and we don’t need to stick yards now. Most elite colleges and larger teams have bulkheads and could easily make the transition, especially for meets. When NCAA has done scm, it’s awesome because you get to see fast swimming, team competition, and world records

CCA Swimmer
Reply to  Gold Medal Mel Stewart
9 months ago

Yes. Then times would be comparable to other universities across the world. We could also compare age group swimmers in SCM. If club swimming was SCM, it would be easier to recruit internationally because you could get world age rankings for events.

TheCommish
9 months ago

SwimSwam should run a paid fantasy league around the ISL and give a portion of profit to them. It might be enough to cover the salary of one lane-filler on the DC Trident, but it will be fun for all 10 of us that play.

Admin
Reply to  TheCommish
9 months ago

I’m not sure we want to register as an internet casino, which is what would be required to do that…

I mean we would, but that’s super expensive so I think the profit would have to be much higher than a few dozen swim nerds spending 10 bucks each.

AnonymousInsider
9 months ago

As a swimmer who has done it both years, it’s a hard no. Too many directions from management, no streamline view between all the heads within the organization either. Even as a swim nerd, I don’t even necessarily like sitting down and WATCHING swimming. There are plenty other more exciting sports that have struggled to take off. I think it would be an incredible hurdle from even the best of organizations, it’s only magnified by the fact the organization has internal issues and debts to be paid.

Blackflag82
Reply to  AnonymousInsider
9 months ago

There are plenty other more exciting sports that have struggled to take off.

But there are also so many less exciting sports that are thriving…I mean, poker is literally watching people sit around a table.

The internal issues hurdle is really the lynchpin it seems

Blackflag82
9 months ago

It seems like all these comments are very American-centric in whether the league survives or not. While that makes sense because of the demographic of this site, I think it’s important to recognize that the ISL can become financially solvent without the US being a main contributor. It’s clear there are some major internal issues that will have to be dealt with, but American viewership numbers are not necessarily an indication.

Cricket, Badminton, and Rugby are examples of sports which are thriving and have enormous viewership in other countries and are pretty exciting, while Poker and Fishing (literally people sitting and/or standing around) have huge viewership in the US. All of that to say that Mel’s point about total digital… Read more »

Admin
Reply to  Blackflag82
9 months ago

That’s sort of true, but if you exclude America from your commercial plan, your audience has to be a lot bigger. In terms of advertising dollars, you need a much higher number of Chinese fans or Indian fans or even Japanese fans to make the same money as American fans.

I am a Rock, I am an ISLand
Reply to  Braden Keith
9 months ago

That, and, this isn’t a business, it’s a vanity project for its owner.

He WANTS to be in America. He WANTS to prove that he can make swimming big in the toughest sports market on earth to break into.

I’m not a psychologist but maybe it has something to do with the fact that he’s not allowed in the country?

Blackflag82
Reply to  I am a Rock, I am an ISLand
9 months ago

Can’t it be both? He wouldn’t be the first business person to start an endeavor in an effort to prove something…

Blackflag82
Reply to  Braden Keith
9 months ago

Sure, I recognize it will still need America in the plan, I’m just commenting on the fact that there are a whole bunch of paths in which America is a piece of the puzzle versus THE piece of the puzzle. Honestly, if they get the promotion figured out for the age group teams (not really that difficult), they’ll have a large and constantly growing American fanbase. I just don’t think the American part of it is as difficult as a lot of folks have been suggesting.

DadCoach
9 months ago

Agree that the sponsors will come when the value and exposure are realized. Some bit of tribalism is needed though to create loyal fans. Regionality is helpful for this and the current areas represented by the teams leaves a lot of holes at least from a US perspective. People in Texas don’t have much of a preference for a NY, DC, or a California team. Yet Texas is a big swimming state that is more similar to middle America. The regions have to have some similarities or a common culture to create loyalties.

I don’t believe that teams need to hoard athletes from their region. A team with a loyal fan base does not need to have players from… Read more »

Admin
Reply to  DadCoach
9 months ago

In your opinion, does that chaos need to come at the individual race level, or the team battle level?

DadCoach
Reply to  Braden Keith
9 months ago

I don’t know. I think it can come from either. There just need to be a hook that draws people in for something unexpected. When I watch football on the weekend there are so many variables that could make my subpar team (LSU guy-rough one after last year) come out with a victory. I hate losing to A&M or Bama and will hold out hope till the last second runs off the clock.

I wish I was imaginative enough to know the answer here. I really want swimming to have it’s place in the world of professional sports. I just need the intrigue. I need to be able to have a 100-message text group with my friends to second guess… Read more »

Last edited 9 months ago by DadCoach
DadCoach
Reply to  DadCoach
9 months ago

After records, rivalries are the most talked about thing in our sport. Whether it is Efimova/King, Phelps/Le Clos, or Horton/Yang. Those are intriguing. You pick a side, and you want to see the other side lose. With the exception of the first mentioned, I don’t know of any rivalries like that in ISL. They should be marketed though if they exist. Swimming is not really a sport of loud mouths and obnoxious athletes, but maybe we need some if your goal is viewship.

About Coleman Hodges

Coleman Hodges

Coleman started his journey in the water at age 1, and although he actually has no memory of that, something must have stuck. A Missouri native, he joined the Columbia Swim Club at age 9, where he is still remembered for his stylish dragon swim trunks. After giving up on …

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