Where Are the Swim Spectators?

Courtesy: Elizabeth Wickham

I’m a swim fan. I enjoy swim meets. I like to cheer for our local high school, club team, and of course college swimmers, too. We stop by meets when we don’t have children swimming and love to watch races.

This isn’t unusual in other sports at all—like football, gymnastics or even golf. There are spectators galore. In swimming, however, it seems like most of the people in the stands are relatives of the swimmers. There are only a handful of people who attend meets as fans from the public. Last week, I went to PAC 12s to cheer on my friends’ kids. Besides a group of Cal former swimmers who attend PAC 12s together every year, there are only a handful of swim fans without direct connections to the athletes. Do other conferences lack swim fans from the general public, too?

With the news that Oregon State cancelled their swim program and other collegiate swim teams being cut recently, I think the promotion of our sport should be a concern. What can we do as swim parents, officials, administrators, coaches and swimmers to help swimming thrive?

How do we get more people interested in watching swim meets? Here are a few ideas to increase the fan base:


Support local teams. Attend local meets and cheer for the swimmers. Take non-swimming friends along so they can experience the excitement, too. Of course, you’ll have to explain what’s going on because non-swimmers may not understand how many laps are in a 500 or what an IM is.


More publicity for meets. At the women’s PAC 12s, the people living in Federal Way were not aware that they had Olympians and a number of the world’s greatest swimmers in their town. Most of the community didn’t know there was a swim meet going on at all or that it was open to the public for a small fee. Promoting a meet to the public may spark some interest and get people to watch.


Welcome the fans. I’ve been to several meets where a swim parent asks “Why are you even here?” It made me feel weird like I shouldn’t want to be watching the sport. No one said that to me at a football game. Not ever.


Reach out to alumni. There’s an entire audience of former swimmers and swim parents out there who could be motivated to watch swimming. By promoting events for alumni groups we may see more people in the stands, supporting our teams.


More access to viewing. We have to search near and far to find broadcasts of swimming outside of the Olympic years, where swimming tops other Olympic sports for viewers. I believe with more broadcasts and live streaming, we’d gain more swim fans. Then the big question is, how do we get more live coverage and broadcasts?

What ideas do you have to increase interest in swimming?

Elizabeth Wickham volunteered for 14 years on her kids’ club team as board member, fundraiser, newsletter editor and “Mrs. meet manager.” She’s a writer with a bachelor of arts degree in editorial journalism from the University of Washington with a long career in public relations, marketing and advertising. Her stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines including the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Parenting and Ladybug. You can read more parenting tips on her blog.

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It’s hard to get “civilians” involved in something that the majority of parents, swimmers, and coaches complain about having to do themselves. Hence #3


SEC’s are sold out – the crowd is electric. Take a close look at what makes that special.

Jim Runkle

The SEC did a great job!! I’ve watched lots of conference meets, and the most glaring fault was announcers who have no clue. Big 10 Women’s was especially bad. Watch SEC and learn.


SEC does do a great job but it’s comparing apples to oranges…you have twice as many teams because it is a combined meet. 22 teams at SECs (10 men, 12 women) vs 6 teams at men’s pac12. Maybe start combining conference meets?


Bingo! Combine the meets and you fill the stands!


I feel your pain. I too have been asked many a time, “Why are you here?” …because I’ve always liked to cheer for the team, the friends, and the social aspect of seeing other swim parents, whom I may not see otherwise. Not really that hard to understand and yet it’s such a mystery to those that are sitting in the stands. I’ve even had one tell me that if their kid wasn’t there, they would definitely not be there. But then, how are the meets able to run? If not cheering, then you volunteer. Simple as that.

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