Yesterday in a jaw-dropping act of benevolence I offered to engage in an image makeover of the sport of synchronized swimming. Having recently attended the sport’s National Championships I couldn’t help notice the incongruity between what the sport has to offer in entertainment value and the public’s perception of same. So I’m here to help, at no charge to USA Synchro.
I began with the simple exercise of changing the name of the sport such that it reflects what’s really taking place, thus bringing the term Aquatic Gymnastics (or its stylish abbreviation, AquaGymnastics) into the Olympic lexicon. Having now reinvented the brand, I will pass the baton to the PR experts while I focus on event management. Again, all at no cost, as this Sports Fan knows no philanthropic boundaries when it comes to improving the American experience of athletic competition.
First off, Event Management 101: Take ownership of the facility in which you are conducting your highest-level competitions! Not only would the National Championships have flunked the “Guess where you are while blindfolded” test, it wouldn’t have passed a simple “Guess where you are” without a blindfold. Although there were lots and lots of signs and banners from previous events, I spotted just three modest poolside A-frame signs displaying the name of the event. Splash (pun intended) banners and signs all over the building – no, make that the neighborhood!
Now let’s talk production – I salivate at what AquaGymnastics (service mark pending) can be in the hands of an ambitious event production team. In all fairness, I understand that the dramatic improvements in the quality of sports production over the past decade have set an almost impossibly high standard for the purveyors of smaller sports. ESPN and its ilk have created a “Go Big or Stay At Home” scenario, and it is understandable that faced with that choice, many smaller sports remain grass-roots oriented in their promotion and production. But here’s the thing: having witnessed it myself, I truly believe that the sport-formerly-known-as-Synchro screams “Go Big” over “Stay at Home”. An inherently good visual experience could be made truly memorable for the crowd in attendance, and downright remarkable for those watching a multi-media broadcast. Some production-specific observations in no specific order:
Lighting is important, and at the Nationals the lighting not only did little to illuminate the performances, it actually detracted from them. For starters, it didn’t help that several of the doors and windows to the outside were without shades. This cast a glare over the pool – but then again, only for those sitting in the bleachers…oh yeah, that would be the fans.
As amazing as an AquaGymnastics performance is when viewed from above the water line, it would be downright awe-inspiring to have a camera (or two) set up underwater, feeding images to large monitors that display to the fans exactly what is going on under water.
I never thought I’d say this, but perhaps some music to fill the dead space between routines? Nothing NBA-esque in its brain-rattling, but at least something to keep the energy up. Or better yet…
An emcee who would bridge the gaps between performances with scoring updates, background info on scoring and even short interviews would be great. It works like a charm for sports like AVP pro beach volleyball.
Repeat after me…“I will not outsource the A/V production…I will not outsource the A/V production”. Time after time throughout the day’s events, music that was presumably queued up for the next performance would begin while the PA announcer was announcing the scores from the previous performance. Which leads me to…
Something has to be done about the timing of announcing scores. At this event, scores were announced for each routine following the performance of the subsequent team. For example, Team One performed, followed by a performance by Team Two, which was followed by the announcement of the scores for…Team One? I understand the desire to keep things moving and minimize delays between performances, but there has to be a better option.
Where’s the love for the competitors? When the athletes are introduced at the beginning of their performance, they are generically presented as “Solo #1”, or “Duet #3”, or “Team #6”. Only after the performance following their own are the athletes identified by team and individual competitor name. In my admittedly underpowered brain, by that time my mind had disassociated what they did with who they were. Would it be so hard to introduce the competitors at both the beginning and end of their routine? Or better yet…
How about a scoreboard that would show where the teams stood as the competition goes on? Think NBC’s “Biggest Loser” and that compelling yellow line. As I watched, it would’ve been great to know that when competitors entered the water, they needed to beat a score of “X” to get into the finals. The single scoreboard that was present only displayed the judge’s scores for one performance at a time, and it was reset after that score was announced.
Just a thought, but wouldn’t it be fun if fans had the ability to try their hand at scoring via handheld devices?
I know that the above costs money and that funding is tight in the current environment, but as my dear sweet Grandma the hedge fund manager once told me, “It takes money to make money”. And certainly the USOC or the NGB (National Governing Body) of the sport can clearly understand that the right investment of marketing money could provide a fairly reliable immediate payback. So who’s with me on this? Who else wants in on the ground, er, pool floor of the phenomenon that is destined to be AquaGymnastics?