Friday, December 14, 2012

Is Gymnastics the Justin Bieber of Sports?

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a review a friend of mine had written about the Kellogg's Tour of Champions and how much she disliked it--from the low level of difficulty to quality of the dancing to the poor production values.

I wanted to put the review on the site because many of us gymnastics fans wonder why our sport isn't more popular during "off" years, why we can't seem to create a lot of viable professional and performing opportunities for high level gymnasts. I think Tanya's post, in part, answers that question. If you're not a hardcore fan of the sport, you're not willing to settle for just any sort of gymnastics performance. (And perhaps that's part of the problem. In gymnastics as in democracy? "In a democracy you get the government you deserve and you deserve the government you get." If we take whatever they toss our way, we'll keep getting the same exact things.)

Well, it seems that even some hardcore fans are dissatisfied. "Carrie" left this comment on the post:

So I'm catching up on your blog, and I thought I'd mention, as a gymnastics-crazed person, I watched 10 minutes of this Kellogg's Tour nonsense and then deleted it from the DVR. I get that they have to play it safe, but why would I want to see the Olympic champions perform level 6 routines? I realize they have to capitalize on their fame while they can, but in the big picture, these exhibition tours are not good for the sport. People of all ages and backgrounds watch the Olympics, they know these athletes by name, yet when it's time for the big push for the sport, the target demographic is 12-year-old girls, period. Why do we have to be the Justin Bieber of sports? There's got to be a way to make these shows cooler and appeal to the masses, like Cirque du Soleil. Or, how about a COMPETITION tour? Because really, that's what people want to see.

So much to unpack here. I agree with most of what Carrie wrote. It seems that the purpose of these tours is not to win over new fans or capitalize on the interest generated by a successful Olympic Games. The purpose seems to be appeal to the very young fans who will go to anything involving gymnastics and buy virtually (or beg their parents to) anything to do with gymnastics just as I did at that age. And indeed, when Gymcastic interviewed Miss Val, I mentioned my friend's appraisal of the show and she blamed Tanya's disappointment on the marketing of the event. She felt that it should've been marketed as an a show that allows fans to get close to their idols and Olympians and as an opportunity for spectators to see these intense athletes let their hair down, both literally and figuratively. No one should've come expecting to see high level gymnastics.

And then Carrie,"Why do we have to be the Justin Bieber of sports?" God, I adore that phrasing even if I'm not totally certain what it means to be the "Justin Bieber of Sports?"

Is it about the demographic? If so, then we surely are the Justin Bieber of sports. After all, how many news stories have we endured with the Fierce Five expressing their adoration of the teen pop star? And a large chunk of their fan base is similarly enamored.

But is the Justin Bieber reference says something about the nature of the show--perhaps that it's cheesy? I've never seen a Justin Bieber concert (and I've never been one for the types of shows with pyrotechnics and backup dancers--I also don't like amusement parks) but I'm assuming that something along those lines is happening. It's supposed to be silly fun--provided you're the right audience for it. (But if we could make it a lot campier then perhaps I'd be game.)

Bieber, however, has enough tween fans that he never needs to worry about branching out beyond that demographic. (At least until he and they get older.) But gymnastics doesn't enjoy the same popularity of Justin Bieber. Furthermore, when Bieber's fans grow up, they have other artists to turn to that are perhaps better suited to their more mature tastes. Grown up gymnastics fans have to consume the same exact fare as they did when they were younger simply because there aren't enough of us a adult diehards as there are kiddies. (A lot of people tend to outgrow gymnastics as they do many things they did as kids.)

While I like the idea of a competitive tour, this might be pretty tricky to pull off as well as a tough sell to the athletes and spectators. If the gymnasts are going to go on tour and compete, even at a somewhat lower level--well then why wouldn't they just go home and train for "real" meets? And while older fans, no doubt, will be excited to see more competition, I'm not convinced that anything short of the Olympics can get the wider public excited for gymnastics. (And to be fair to gymnastics--I don't think other popular Olympic events such as swimming are getting tons of attention during the "off" years unless Michael Phelps is involved.)

Maybe I'm being a bit of a fatalist and not at all imaginative enough. Perhaps there is a way to satisfy the core of the fan base while making the sport more palatable to adults without having a grown man run around in a diaper? I surely hope so. 


Carrie said...

Ha! It's true, there was a time (I was the age of the Bieber demographic) when I bought ANYTHING that just mentioned gymnastics. I'd clip anything from the newspaper that even barely mentioned gymnastics and put it in a scrapbook. Anyway, I guess because of my little personal gymnastics renaissance at age thirty-mumblemumble, and the popularity of things like CrossFit and Spartan Race and whatnot, I feel like there IS an adult audience that could really appreciate the athleticism, if only these tours would showcase it. I sort of think that college gymnastics may have found the happy medium, incorporating high level gymnastics with excitement and marketing. In my four years at Alabama, I don't think I ever attended a meet with less than 10,000 other spectators.

Dvora Meyers said...

While I think your point about CrossFit/Spartan Race is valid, I'm not sure that college gymnastics attendance is an indication that there is a serious adult interest in the sport. College gymnastics, like all other college sports, is very reliant on school pride to get that sort of turnout. Elite/professional level gymnastics doesn't have that sort of resource to draw on.