Bring on the Crowds
One of the things that we have struggled with over the past few years is crowd support and participation at powerlifting meets. It is a rare competition that has a full gallery of spectators. Across federations, and nations, there some sessions of lifting that are not well attended at all. And this is a dramatic change from our heyday. While lifting continues to be popular, and our elite athletes perform as well as ever, our public tends to consist of lifters, or those know lifters personally.
Several recent experiences have been remarkably different from this recently. Two are powerlifting related events, the other, something else entirely. The first of these was the Women's Nationals this spring in St. Louis. The athletes were greeted by a full house, for each session, and until the very end (and that was late). They were engaged, excited, and vocal. There were a number of people who weren't competitive powerlifters, or closely connected to powerlifting at all. Rather, they were interested, perhaps heard about the meet in the gym, or distantly were acquainted with one or more of the athletes.
Opening Ceremonies, World Games
The second experience was the Opening Ceremonies of the World Games in Duisberg, Germany. There were 30,000 people in attendance, almost filling a football stadium to capacity. Watching the crowd make their way to the arena strongly suggested that those attending were not athletes, but fans of sport in general. Or perhaps they were those who expected a good, and entertaining show, and that is what they got. 4 hours of athletes, the highest officials in amateur athletics, music, and a professional quality show. They definitely got one. And the crowd responded by cheering, "waving" and with repeated ovations.
Finally, I attended a Taiko (Japanese drumming) concert here in Anchorage, Alaska. It was held in a theater auditorium holding 750, and was sold out weeks in advance. There were several hundred people waiting in line at the box office the night of the show to claim "no show" tickets. As improbably as it is, the crowd in attendance had all the hallmarks of spectators at athletic events. They cheered, gave repeated standing ovations, actively participated, and can't wait to go again.
What do these three events have in common? At first blush, they are all EXCITING for those present. But beyond that, each of these has several other qualities that are equivalent. Each of them had similar qualities of announcing. That is, announcers that were engaged with the crowd, interacted with them, and who varied their delivery from close and personal to loud and inspiring. In short, they drew the crowd in.
Another common theme in two of these events, at least, was music that energized the crowd to step beyond their self consciousness at being vocal. The anonymity of large numbers helps, but inspiring, driving music tended to facilitate the crowd's level of enthusiasm.
Each of these events reflected an monumental effort to draw in crowds, from advance advertising and other publicity, to advance ticket sales. It is not uncommon to leave the business of admission to the event until the last day in powerlifting. Those who show up pay. But, unfortunately, there are many who change their minds with their day-to-day lives become too busy. If they had a ticket in hand, the meet director would benefit financially (whether they attended or not) and the potential spectator would be more inclined to show up. Once the price of the ticket has been laid out, most of us will make a serious attempt to "get our money's worth."
To summarize, several factors appear key in broadening our appeal: advance publicity and early ticket sales, excitement both in terms of venue and format, and engaging and informative announcing. With these things, our potential fans will choose to spend their time, and their entertainment budgets seeing the greatest strength on earth.