Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Did gymnastics' popularity decrease after we lost the Perfect 10?

I just finished listening to Part 2 of the Tim Daggett new gymnastics podcast, Gymcastic, which you can now subscribe to on iTunes.

This episode, unlike the previous one, was more focused on the code, skills, and deductions. This was a pretty good listen especially when Daggett started to delve into men's gymnastics, which I know far less about than I do the women's side of the sport. As a coach and former athlete, he clearly knows his stuff.

This might seem odd coming from me since I wrote a very critical article about the NBC trio that includes Daggett. But in my critiques, I've never doubted his gymnastics intelligence. Also, I'm fully willing to accept that Daggett has limited input as to which routines are broadcast. Rather, it's been about how he and the others (especially the other two) comport themselves on air. Knowing their stuff is one thing. But they dumb down what they see so that it is practically meaningless. They also way overhype the drama and use misogynistic tropes in their commentary. I know that the broadcasts are not geared towards me, a knowledgeable uber fan. But I don't think raising the IQ of the commentary by a few points will drive away the four year fans or make it too hard for them to follow. Basically, I think their commentary has gotten lazy. Their approach hasn't changed in over a decade. I think they can do better, but I suppose there is little incentive for them to change anything. Gymnastics ratings has little to do with what is said or isn't said on air.

Further, I don't think NBC's rating success this summer had anything to do with how they chose to commentate and broadcast. Those things remained virtually unchanged from previous Olympic Games. Rather, the Games in London as a whole were more popular than the Beijing spectacle. Also, the fact that the U.S. women won (and were clearly dominant heading in) played an enormous role. The women's team this year was an incredibly likable, photogenic group.

And finally, forces outside of NBC's purview--such as the way fans use social media--help drive a lot of the discussion and fervor. (I mean, who didn't want to watch with Samuel L. Jackson just so you would get his hilarious twitter commentary.)

Another point Daggett raised during the podcast is how the "new" scoring system confuse casual viewers. (Folks, it's been around for six years at this point. This is sort of like my mom telling me not to jump on the "new" couch, which was five years old at that point. I think what both she and Daggett meant by "new" is "not as old as the last one we just got rid of.")

Now, Daggett is hardly the only person in the gymnastics community to make this assertion. Basically, virtually everyone in the gymnastics community has made similar claims, about how iconic the Perfect 10 is, how fans are put off.

But has it really put fans off of the sport? I know we keep hearing that but are people less interested in gymnastics than they were in 2004 merely because there is no longer a 10.0 ceiling? Where's the proof? (Someone needs to do a scientific poll. After the presidential election, I'll put it to Gallup.) Which casual Olympic fans now won't watch because a 15.7 rather than a 9.7 is considered a good score.

For about as long as I've watched the sport, I've been asked to explain it to others, especially the scoring. This happened under the old system and it's happening under the newer one. It might take an extra few minutes now because there are two scores--difficulty and execution--to account for, but I don't think my friends are less interested because of it.

Cause here's the actual truth that we gym fans know all too well--irregardless of scoring protocols, virtually no one cares about gymnastics during non-Olympic years. Bringing back the 10 won't change that.


Shmendrick said...

My friend watched some of the 2011 worlds when she was home ill and said the only reason she watched it was because gymnastics is one of the few sports you can enjoy without having to know any of the rules. I guess four year fans just watch to enjoy the acrobatics and the spectacle.

Dvora Meyers said...

My point exactly. All of this hand wringing over losing the Perfect 10, and with it, the fans. But casual viewers are casual viewers, regardless of the scoring system.

dp said...

Gymnastics scoring had gotten pretty confusing before the loss of the 10 with the whole "not everyone always has a 10.0 sv routine" thing. Imho that's more confusing than the new system- between seeing a greatly executed routine only get a 9.2 because it's not difficult vs. seeing it get 9.7/10 e-score and a lower d-score, the second one seems more easily explained to me. I also think our problem the whole time has not been that the code can't differentiate performances, but that the judges won't. I watch routines from the old system that have scores in the 9.9s, and I can see cowboyed tucks, crossed legs, bent knees, etc. at full speed, even with disgusting video quality. Surely a judge who has made this their career can as well... So why didn't they take off for it?

Dvora Meyers said...

@dp I think we fundamentally agree. My point was that gymnastics has always needed to be "translated" for the casual viewer. This is why I disagree with the notion that losing the 10 has resulted in any sort of decline in interest in the sport. Interest in gymnastics has always been tied to other factors.

Christian said...

The other thing is that the scores still changed every quad - a 10 remained the 'perfect score' but what represented a 'good score' was never the same. In 1988, Silivas and Shushunova were getting 10s left right and centre; by 1992 it was still achievable but it certainly wasn't in 2004 - and as someone who wasn't really a following fan before the scoring change, I find it really confusing trying to work out if a 9.663 is good, bad or ugly in whatever pre-2005 comp I'm watching.

Dvora Meyers said...

@Christian Thanks for adding even more reasons as to why the loss of the 10 isn't the tragedy/disaster many are making it out to be.

The last time scores legitimately got high enough to approach a 10 was maybe in the 1992-96 quad.

Kerry Joyce said...

if the perfect 10 and an understandble scoring system drew people to the sport then ncaa gymnastics would be more popular and even more so when elite gymnastics became more difficult for the average viewer. i def agree that people tune into the olympics every four years because its a spectacle and also because its the only time gymnastics is given A LOT of mainstream media attention.

Dvora Meyers said...

@Kerry Excellent point.